The fluoropolymer industry agreed Feb. 9 to cut the amount of a potentially toxic chemical in some of its products significantly by 2006, as part of a broad Environmental Protection Agency push to reduce environmental exposure.
The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. announced at an EPA hearing in Washington that the industry will cut levels of the chemical, a derivative of perfluorooctanoic acid, by 90 percent from 2000 levels.
The agreement covers aqueous fluoropolymer dispersions - fluoropolymers sold in a water-based material that makes it easier to coat products needing a tough outer barrier, from nonstick frying pans to roofs of airports to military and aerospace applications, said Don Duncan, president of Washington-based SPI.
EPA is cracking down on PFOA because it mysteriously has shown up in low levels in the blood of large segments of the U.S. population, and some studies indicate links to cancer and other health problems. But whether it is harmful to the general public is a subject for debate - a preliminary EPA review last month was inconclusive.
As part of the Feb. 9 agreement, Duncan said the fluoropolymer resin industry has developed technology to reduce the amount of ammonium perfluorooctanoate (APFO) salts, a derivative of PFOA, in resins used in the dispersion process. It will work to get the new low-APFO resin widely distributed to the fluoropolymer processing industry, he said.
Duncan predicts that the low-APFO resins will not cost more and will be widely used, but noted that many companies using the resins will need to get them re-qualified with their customers, since they are often used in high-performance applications with strict manufacturing controls.
``Our industry is committed to reducing potential sources of APFO,'' he said.
Duncan said APFO is present at levels of about one-quarter of 1 percent in the aqueous resins, which make up 15 percent of the fluoropolymer market. He said APFO is present in much-smaller trace amounts in fluoropolymer formulations in the other 85 percent of the market.
It is not clear how much of the PFOA in the environment comes from the fluoropolymer industry, Duncan said. The ongoing EPA review is looking at other sources, including small compounds called telomers used in fire-fighting foams and coatings.
Charles Auer, director of EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, called the industry commitment a ``wonderful development'' and said it fits with EPA preferences that companies reduce their use of chemicals.
The agreement on aqueous resins follows a more-general fluoropolymer industry agreement with EPA in 2003 to reduce overall PFOA emissions 50 percent by 2006. The industry is ahead of schedule in meeting that agreement, Duncan said.