The family of chemicals known collectively as PFAS is getting a lot of attention these days, and right now the main focus is pointed squarely on Europe.
That's because the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) is halfway through its six-month consultation — or comment — period on its restriction proposal that calls for the eventual banning of roughly 10,000 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
And while the ECHA argues that all PFAS materials in the scope of the proposal are "very persistent in the environment" — hence the term "forever chemicals" — producers and users of fluoroelastomers and fluoropolymers argue that the materials and goods they produce have no business being part of the process.
They say that while it's true certain products containing PFAS do need to be scrutinized for potential harm to humans and the environment, the industrial goods they deal with are inert, don't degrade into water or air, and long have been designated as "polymers of low concern" by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Applications for these FKMs and fluoropolymers include automotive, hose and tubing, aerospace, the chemical industry, semiconductor production, industrial machinery and batteries in electric vehicles.
But all people seem to hear about is PFAS usage in such things as pizza boxes and ski waxes, among a myriad of other products that may be linked to adverse outcomes, according to Frenk Hulsebosch, Chemours Co. director for advanced materials.
"What we start seeing now is through all the communications, what we are doing, people are starting to realize how big it is and how impactful it is," said Hulsebosch, who is on special assignment to lead the maker of Viton-brand fluoroelastomers' PFAS response.
"What's important is the polymers and elastomers are safe. There are no issues with these polymers and elastomers. You want to control the manufacturing, so you don't have emissions, and you want to manage the end-of-life, so they don't go into the environment and break down there."
Like Hulsebosch, those who are seeking to get FKMs and such fluoropolymers as PTFE exempted need to convince the ECHA or European Commission that they pose no risk.
Besides exemption, the chemicals could also see reprieve via an "unlimited derogation" where they wouldn't be subject to the ban.
Hulsebosch knows this is the start of a very long process that will last four years or longer, but he's also patient and believes that regulators will reach the proper conclusion.
"We are confident, at the end, that common sense will prevail," he said. "But we only will get there if, as the public debate is going on, people realize the impact and people participating in the [process], and engage with the regulators and have this common discussion."