Where are we with ‘forever chemicals’

2022-08-22

Regulatory measures are welcomed progress as concerns over PFAS in the global food chain increase in Europe.

Per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a vast group of over anthropogenic (man-made) organic chemicals. The group consists of a hydrophobic fluorinated alkyl chain (R) of varying length (typically, C4-C16) and a hydrophilic functional group (X). The hydrophobic part may be fully [R=F(CF2) n-] or partially fluorinated. When fully fluorinated, the molecules are also called perfluoroalkyl substances. Over 4,730 PFAS related CAS numbers have been identified. Due to their unique water, grease and dirt repellent properties, they have been widely used in industrial processes since the 1950s. PFAS are also extensively used in consumer products such as paper, textiles, non-stick coated cooking utensils and cosmetics, and as such, we are exposed to them through a range of everyday scenarios.

Many of the PFAS are resistant to biological, chemical and physical transformation because of the chemical stability imparted by the carbon-fluorine (C-F) bond. As a result, PFAS are extremely long lived and widely detected in the environment (water, air, soil, sediments and biota).

Long half-lives, in the range of years, have been reported, depending on the PFAS and matrix combination. Two of the most commonly used PFAS, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA) have been listed in the annexes of the UNEP Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) with the aim of eliminating their production and uses. In addition, perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS) is also considered for listing in the Stockholm Convention. Last month, the governments of Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway formally proposed to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) that these chemicals be restricted under Reach (Registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals) legislation. The proposal aims to prohibit the production, marketing, and use of these substances throughout Europe. Exceptions will be considered for certain established uses, such as medical applications. After summer 2022, ECHA’s scientific bodies and socio-economic analysis committee will assess the Reach restriction dossier and deliver an opinion by 2023. A final agreement by EU member states could be possible as early as 2025.

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New Food Magazine, 22-08-22
; https://www.newfoodmagazine.com/article/166945/pfas-regulations/