Teflon and Gore-Tex under EU Parliament's microscope

Analysis

These are chlorinated compounds used in everyday materials such as Teflon and Gore-Tex as well as some industrial applications. They contribute to the greenhouse effect and, because they are bioaccumulative, are hazardous to the body. MEPs therefore want to limit their use as far as possible, although some derogations will be allowed. The chlorine chemistry industry has in the past produced substances such as DDT, PCBs and CFCs which caused havoc in the environment but today are either banned or tightly controlled. Perfluorooctane sulfonates (PFOS) are members of a relatively new class of perfluorinated compounds which have also proved hazardous. A new directive is therefore needed to deal with these chemicals. The European Commission is suggesting that PFOS should not be placed on the market or used as a substance or constituent of preparations in a concentration equal to or higher than 0.1% by mass. A key proposal of the report by Carl Schlyter (Greens/EFA, SE) adopted today by 50 votes to 1 with 1 abstention is to reduce this figure to 0.005%. The Environment Committee also voted for the directive to apply to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has a similar structure and toxicity to PFOS, according to a recent OECD study. Concentrations of this substance will also be limited to 0.005% by mass. Under further amendments adopted by the committee, the directive will apply to new products and excludes those already in use or on the second-hand market. Fire-fighting foams can be used up to 18 months after the legislation enters into force. However, Member States must take steps to prevent further emissions from such products. In addition, controlled closed systems where the concentration of PFOS released into the environment and the workplace is less than 1μg per kg of these PFOS may be used in the system until six years after the directive enters into force. MEPs also granted derogations for photoresists or anti-reflective coatings for photolithography processes until eight years after the directive's entry into force, provided they are used in controlled closed systems. Industrial photographic coatings applied to films, papers or printing plates will be allowed an extra four years. There is no substitute for PFOS in hydraulic aviation fluids, which are vital for aircraft safety. These will therefore be granted a ten-year derogation, which can be extended to allow the development of alternatives. The above derogations may be extended for a limited period of time on a case-by-case basis if manufacturers can prove they have made every effort to develop safer alternatives or alternative processes, and that these are still not available. (EP Press)

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