Citizens’ opinions on (non-) essential uses of persistent chemicals: A survey in seven European countries
By A. K. Karinen, H. Tobi, J. Devilee, A. T. de Blaeij, and S. Gabbert
Environ Sci Policy
January 22, 2024
In accordance with the European Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability towards a Toxic-free Environment, the European Commission plans to phase out persistent chemicals, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), except for uses classified essential for society. Until now, empirical research on what is considered an essential or non-essential chemical use has been lacking. Furthermore, as such criteria are bound to be subjective, different parties can have different views. In this study we explored which uses of persistent chemicals citizens from seven EU countries consider (non-)essential for society. As EU citizens are directly impacted by policy decisions based on (non-)essentiality criteria, we also investigated the influence of emphasis on the consequences of banning vs. allowing persistent chemicals, the association with demographics, and of having heard of persistent chemicals or PFAS prior to the study. We found substantial variation in essentiality ratings within and between use categories and between countries. Uses related to safety were frequently considered essential, whereas uses related to recreation, household, and personal care were frequently considered non-essential. Emphasis on different consequences did not influence essentiality ratings. Gender, age, education, and political orientation were to some extent associated with essentiality ratings. People who had not heard of persistent chemicals or PFAS prior to the study rated uses of persistent chemicals less frequently as non-essential or essential. Our findings offer insight into EU citizens’ opinions on (non-)essential uses of persistent chemicals, and provide empirical input to the scientific and public debate on framing the concept of essential use.