Washington-based American Chemistry Council is tasked with safeguarding the priorities of its 190-plus member companies, and that includes monitoring the entire array of PFAS-related activity.
Leadership of the association is witness to the fact that the Biden administration has been quite active in this area. EPA has laid out its PFAS Strategic Roadmap and unveiled a new National PFAS Testing Strategy.
The administration also launched an Interagency Policy Committee on PFAS that is overseeing no fewer than 70 different activities being conducted by 10 federal agencies, according to ACC.
It appears EPA currently is focused on finalizing its maximum contaminant level and proposals under the Superfund program covering PFOA and PFOS, two chemicals that have been found to cause some of the most dangerous impacts among the thousands of chemicals under the PFAS umbrella.
For its part, ACC is charged with getting the story out about how vital PFAS are in countless applications, including those made with fluoropolymers and FKMs. PFAS chemicals are characterized by the strong bond between fluorine and carbon, generally viewed as the strongest bond in chemistry. This bond, ACC said, helps PFAS provide products with strength, durability, stability and resilience.
These properties are one reason PFAS is needed in such products as cellphones, tables and communications systems, semiconductors, medical devices and aircraft, not to mention the solar panels, turbines and batteries necessary for alternative energy development.
ACC also said there is increased recognition by scientists and policymakers that all PFAS chemistries should not be grouped together for the purposes of regulation and risk assessment.
"Most experts also agreed that it is inappropriate to assume equal toxicity/potency across the diverse class of PFAS," the council told Rubber News in a statement. "In particular, many critical industries that rely on rubber products also incorporate fluoropolymer components in and around them within the same product, such as automobiles and medical devices.
"As a result, overly broad PFAS regulation has the potential to threaten many more manufacturers, within or outside the PFAS family, if bans or restrictions are enacted."
ACC went on to outline what it views as further potential consequences to U.S. industry if such universal restrictions are placed on PFAS chemicals. They hypothesize that such regulations on all PFAS "could cost American jobs, disrupt supply chain resiliency and harm economic growth, in addition to hampering the ability of businesses and consumers to access the products they need."
PFAS products in use today, the council added, have had their safety confirmed by regulators, including EPA, based on a body of scientific data. Further, fluoropolymers are large, stable, inert polymeric molecules with established safety profiles found by chemical regulatory experts to be labeled as "polymers of low concern" for potential risk to human health or the environment.
"Fluoropolymers are not water-soluble and as a result are not found in sources of drinking water," ACC said. "Importantly, fluoropolymers are not the same as PFOA or PFOS, or other long-chain PFAS, nor can they transform to those substances in the environment."
While EPA's Strategic Roadmap and National Testing Strategy indicate the agency recognizes distinctions within the broad class of PFAS and is taking a more targeted approach, ACC has concerns with how the road map may be implemented. The fear is EPA will move forward without engagement and coordination with other federal agencies and also without the involvement of industry stakeholders.
"There is an opportunity for the U.S. to take a more focused approach to PFAS policy, but stakeholders and downstream users must actively engage in the process to make their voices heard," ACC told RN.
Like others in the industry, the association is concerned that certain U.S. states could use a broad grouping approach when developing policies and regulations.
"The result could be a national patchwork of state regulations that conflict with each other and perhaps with EPA's policies as well as international standards now and in the future," ACC said. "The consequences could be skyrocketing prices, products no longer available in certain states and business opportunities moving from one state to another or overseas."
As PFAS proposals move forward in the U.S. and elsewhere, ACC said it advises its members to stay informed, active and engaged, particularly with the broad restriction proposed in the EU and in key state activities such as in Maine and Minnesota.
"It is critical that these regulatory bodies be informed and reminded of the important uses and safety of fluorotechnology chemistries," the association said. "Whether they have extensive business in the EU or not, U.S. companies need to be aware of the proposal being considered in Europe and engage to inform that process."
Members also should pay close attention, ACC said, to any movement in the U.S. at the federal or state levels to consider proposals that would group all PFAS chemistries together for evaluation and regulation.
"Key downstream user engagement will be important to help inform and guide smart, science-based regulation of this important chemistry in the United States and abroad," ACC said.