Could the world go PFAS-free? Proposal to ban ‘forever chemicals’ fuels debate

August 1, 2023

Read the full article by XiaoZhi Lim (Nature)

"This February, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki published a proposal that could lead to the world’s largest-ever clampdown on chemicals production. The plan, put forward by environmental agencies in five countries — Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden — would heavily restrict the manufacture of more than 12,000 substances, collectively known as forever chemicals.

These chemicals, per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), are all around us. They coat non-stick cookware, smartphone screens, weatherproof clothing and stain-resistant textiles. They are also used in microchips, jet engines, cars, batteries, medical devices and refrigeration systems (see ‘‘Forever chemicals’ in Europe’).

PFASs are extraordinarily useful. Their fluorine-swaddled carbon chains let grease and water slide off textiles, and they protect industrial equipment from corrosion and heat damage. But their strong carbon–fluorine bonds cannot be broken apart by natural processes. So after PFASs escape from factories, homes and vehicles into the environment1, they add to a forever-growing pollution problem. The February proposal estimates that tens of thousands of tonnes of these chemicals escape annually in Europe alone."