Baltimore — Plastics companies looking for 100 percent clarity around how to phase-down fluorinated PFAS compounds in their manufacturing processes will have to keep waiting.
That much was clear at a recent Society of Plastics Engineers technical conference, Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in the Plastics Industry, which took a deep dive into the calls to eliminate PFAS chemicals and what that could mean for the industry.
An overriding theme was how much remains uncertain, both technically and commercially, and as is common at conferences on complex topics, there were a lot of calls for collaboration to find new approaches.
But like beauty, collaboration was also something that was in the eye of the beholder.
For some, it meant working with others in industry to develop new chemicals to replace the fluoropolymer or fluorinated compounds that are used as process aids in manufacturing or as key components in products like medical devices, flame retardants and electric car batteries.
"We're not up here saying we have all the answers," said Andrew Ro, a process engineer with medical device maker Boston Scientific, in a presentation at the Oct. 18-19 conference in Baltimore. "We're actually looking for you guys and potential collaboration through SPE to find the answers."
For others, collaboration means influencing governments to make distinctions between the thousands of different PFAS-related chemicals in the market, when they start to write new public health standards.
Specifically, for the American Chemistry Council, it meant having regulators keep fluoropolymers separate from chemicals like PFOA or PFOS, which face strict new federal drinking limits.
"Our basic message is to keep fluoropolymers separate," said Jay West, executive director of ACC's Performance Fluoropolymer Partnership, arguing that fluoropolymers, within the broad class of fluorinated chemicals, are safe.
He told the conference at another point that he views working together as an industry on PFAS government affairs a top priority.
"I'd like collaborate with all of you so that you can feel comfortable being heard in your states and educating your local legislators about the importance of fluoropolymers to your products [and] your workers," he said. "I'd like to collaborate with you in the public policy space."
And for others, collaboration meant having industry share much more data with the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies about PFAS substances, to help develop safer alternatives and fill in the large gaps in publicly available science.
"To move forward and look for safer alternatives, that requires a huge amount of collaboration," said Liz Harriman, deputy director of the Toxics Use Reductions Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, speaking on a panel discussion.
"I also think industry owes it to EPA and the states, but especially the EPA, to be transparent and give them all the information they have and all the information that EPA needs," she said. "They've been kept in the dark way too long."