Japans government is considering allowing some exemptions from the upcoming ban on the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and its related compounds, in response to industry feedback.
The ban was due to come into force in April this year, but the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) delayed the start date, citing comments from a public consultation that closed in late 2019.
The government has now restated its intention to reclassify PFOA and its compounds as Class 1 specified substances by 3 December 2020.
This class of chemicals is effectively banned from manufacture and import because of their persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic effects.
The new ban date coincides with the implementation of amendments to the Stockholm Convention, which oblige Japan and other signatory countries to stop using PFOA except in certain listed applications with no available substitutes.
New exemptions for PFOA
The original proposal allowed manufacturers to continue using PFOA in certain pharmaceutical applications. But industry has called for additional exemptions to allow its use in photoresists for the semiconductor industry and in invasive and implantable medical devices. The government is now considering allowing these uses.
Feedback also highlighted uncertainty among industry and consumer groups over how the ban will apply to polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, also known by the trade name Teflon) and other products that might degrade to form PFOA as a byproduct.
In response to NGO calls for frying pans and waterproofing sprays to require labels indicating the products contain PFOA, the government said this should not be necessary if the substance is effectively eliminated as a byproduct. But it said it would revisit the subject at a later date.
Manufacturers and users of PTFE micropowders expressed concerns about the small amounts of PFOA that are produced during manufacture and whether this would make the materials subject to ban. PTFE micropowders are widely used in printing inks, coatings, paints, elastomers and lubricants.
The government has said that PFOA produced as a byproduct will not be treated as a Class 1 specified substance if adequate measures are taken to reduce its levels.
Need for limits
Other comments point to the need for a standard on PFOA to outline the maximum amount in a mixture that would see the mixture controlled as a Class 1 specified substance. The EUs REACH regulation sets a limit for trace contamination of 25 parts per billion, but NGOs have argued that this limit is too high. The Japanese government has deferred setting a similar limit, citing a lack of agreement on a standard value under the Stockholm Convention.
Instead, the government refers to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (Meti) guidance on handling chemical substances containing byproduct Class I specified chemical substances. Companies that become aware of small amounts of a Class 1 specified substance in their products through analysis must immediately set a provisional upper limit for voluntary control and report measures to reduce its content to the government. Relevant documents should be submitted to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Meti and the environment ministry for further consideration.
The ministries are now accepting submissions of documents related to PFOA ahead of its reclassification.
after June 2020 public consultation on the draft law;
December 2020 designation of the substances as Class I specified chemical substances; and
after December 2020 restrictions expected to be implemented.
22 October 2019
Chemical Watch, 16 April 2020