fbpx

Chemicals

What To Do About PFAS? It’s Complicated.

In the ever-present effort to preserve our environment, the next frontier for regulators is per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). States across the country are narrowing their sights, specifically avoiding their prevalence in water sources. Federally, the PFAS Action Act has been passed in the house, declaring all PFAS hazardous, which could lead to a ban of the entire class of nearly 5,000 chemicals.

It seems obvious that limiting PFAS in water supplies is needed. We know, both from historical cases and recent research, that PFAS can pose a serious threat to human health if it is in the water we drink. It’s the proper role of the government to ensure that dumping is prevented and to punish those responsible to the fullest extent of the law.

But there is good news in this debate that most ignore. Despite alarmist headlines, PFAS has been largely phased out from being used where unnecessary. A  2018 Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry said that “industrial releases have been declining since companies began phasing out the production and use of several perfluoroalkyls in the early 2000s.” In addition, a CDC report shows that since 2000, “mean blood levels of two respective compounds have declined approximately 84 percent and mean blood levels of PFOA have declined about 70 percent,” and recent reports are showing that bodies of water contain only trace amounts of PFAS, and they have been steadily declining.

While that is great news, the conversation in regards to PFAS appears to be stuck in the early 2000s, when a class-action lawsuit against Dupont was launched for what ended up being an egregious case of chemical dumping. The health impact from this was widespread, and the company settled for over $670 million. Unfortunately, federal legislators are responding to headlines of yesteryear as opposed to taking a measured evidence-based approach.

Despite this, a blanket ban would be incredibly misguided because separate use cases for these chemicals present different risks for Americans. Some present no risk to humans, and in fact, provide great value. Take medical equipment for example. PFAS is used in the production of life-saving medical equipment and is vital for contamination-resistant gowns, implantable medical devices, heart patches, and more.

Embracing a “one size fits all” approach to PFAS without evaluating the risk associated with each use puts lifesaving medical technologies in jeopardy and patient safety at risk. That is the fundamental problem with potential bans, regardless of how these chemicals are used and irrespective of whether or not they present a risk to Americans. When produced in a responsible manner that avoids contaminating water sources, the use of PFAS for medical equipment is a net positive for Americans.

But it isn’t just the availability of medical equipment at risk if bans continue. These compounds are fundamental in the production process for smartphones, used by 290 million Americans every day. Forcibly removing these chemicals from the production process would disrupt supply chains, inflate costs for consumers, which is incredibly regressive, all while this use case of PFAS presents little risk to human health.

Unfortunately, this misguided approach is now creeping into the FDA and their Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). During their upcoming December meeting, the SAB plans on releasing the first round of testing data following the release of the National PFAS Testing Strategy in October 2021. The issue with this is that these test orders were issued far in advance of the Agency’s PFAS categorization framework which is essential to obtain data critical for informing the Agency about PFAS hazards, exposure, and risk.

Essentially the SAB is going to publish their findings, prior to the framework that will outline what appropriate thresholds are, and how regulations should be structured accordingly. As a result, the data that is expected to be presented will be presented without any instruction on what the exposure risks are, and will likely lead to a skewed result adding to the PFAS panic and calls for bans.

Luckily, some voices of reason have emerged in Congress, like Indiana Rep. Larry Buschon. As a heart surgeon by trade, he has rightfully pointed out that the heavy-handed approach would put life-saving medical technologies at risk. Hopefully, more will listen, and Congress can both limit PFAS exposure where it is dangerous while allowing for it to continue to be used where it is safe.

Originally published here

Editorial on COVID and PFAS chemicals needlessly alarmist

The Nov. 24 South Jersey Times editorial headlined “COVID and PFAS: A match not made in heaven” argues that exposure to PFAS, a class of man-made chemicals, potentially reduces the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and calls on New Jersey to further assess the risks associated with these chemicals.

While a clean-drinking-water approach to PFAS is appropriate, the debate is far more nuanced than represented in the editorial.

It is true that when dumped into water supplies or used beyond threshold amounts, PFAS do pose a considerable danger to our health and well-being. Some individual chemicals do require regulations or potentially bans, but that alone is not sufficient to justify a blanket ban, something now being attempted at the federal level.

PFAS are a group consisting of 4,500 to 6,000 chemicals. Because of their liquid resistance and surface tension lowering properties, PFAS are key to producing many consumer products and lifesaving medical equipment. PFAS products ensured the durability and reduced contamination from COVID-19 protective equipment, too.

The use of PFAS has dropped, thanks to self-regulation by manufacturers. The presence of PFAS in the bloodstreams of Americans has decreased, and industrial releases have declined as well.

Banning all of these chemicals will only shift PFAS production, most likely, to China. That said, we need a careful evaluation of PFAS. Demonizing these chemicals as a group doesn’t help anyone, and implying that they might reduce vaccine efficacy without evidence is a huge disservice to readers.

Originally published here

Produits chimiques synthétiques PFAS : ne les interdisons pas

Si certains produits chimiques PFAS méritent d’être examinés de plus près, voire interdits, d’autres ne sont pas seulement sans danger ; ils sont également essentiels à notre vie quotidienne.

La situation à l’usine 3M de Zwijndrecht en Belgique a ramené les produits chimiques PFAS dans l’actualité. Alors que les législateurs du monde entier s’intéressent de plus en plus à ces substances, nous devons nous rappeler que nous ne pouvons pas peindre une gamme de 5000produits chimiques avec un seul pinceau.

Ce qui s’est passé exactement à l’usine 3M de Zwijndrecht n’a pas encore été établi. L’entreprise fait actuellement appel de la décision du gouvernement d’arrêter la production à la suite de la découverte d’un nombre accru de PFAS (acide perfluorooctane sulfonique) – un sous-groupe de PFAS – dans le sang des habitants de la région. 3M affirme qu’elle coopère pleinement avec les organismes de réglementation, mais le gouvernement accuse le fabricant de produits chimiques de ne pas avoir fourni suffisamment de documents pour prouver qu’il n’a pas été négligent.

Pour les consommateurs, deux choses peuvent être vraies à la fois : d’une part, il est possible que 3M ait agi par imprudence, ce qui devrait être poursuivi dans toute la mesure de la loi. D’autre part, il est possible que les arrêts de production affectent les chaînes d’approvisionnement mondiales au moment où nous pouvons le moins nous le permettre.

QU’EST-CE QUE LES PFAS ?

En fait, de nombreux produits chimiques PFAS, qui sont parfaitement sûrs, sont utilisés pour tout fabriquer, des poêles en téflon aux smartphones – ou, plus important encore : des équipements médicaux.

Les PFAS regroupent un ensemble de 5000 produits chimiques aux caractéristiques variées. Si certains d’entre eux méritent d’être examinés de plus près, voire interdits, d’autres ne sont pas seulement sans danger ; ils sont également essentiels à notre vie quotidienne.

Nous devons comprendre la différence scientifique entre les évaluations fondées sur le danger et celles fondées sur le risque. Le danger est le potentiel de nuisance d’un produit, le risque est la probabilité qu’il le fasse. En simplifiant : un requin peut vous tuer, mais si vous ne vous exposez pas à ce risque en ne vous baignant pas dans la mer, il ne le fera certainement pas.

Les degrés de risque sont également définis par les degrés d’exposition. Il en va de même pour les produits chimiques que nous utilisons quotidiennement.

LA MAUVAISE IDÉE DE LEUR INTERDICTION TOTALE

Une interdiction totale des PFAS, comme le soutient actuellement la Belgique au niveau européen, va à l’encontre de l’élaboration de politiques fondées sur des preuves. Pour dire les choses simplement, classer tous les PFAS comme dangereux revient à interdire l’utilisation du mercure dans les thermomètres parce qu’il est nocif lorsqu’il est ingéré ou à interdire l’utilisation du chlore dans les piscines parce qu’il est nocif si on le mange.

Une réponse plus appropriée consisterait à évaluer ces produits chimiques en fonction du risque qu’ils présentent et de la manière dont ils sont utilisés, plutôt que de les mettre tous dans le même sac en les interdisant de manière autoritaire.

L’objectif de l’action politique devrait toujours être d’être précise et nuancée, en tenant compte des conséquences involontaires des décisions de précaution.

Il n’y a rien d’intrinsèquement mauvais dans l’intention de vouloir protéger les consommateurs. Toutefois, ces règles sans discernement leur seraient nuisibles en entraînant une hausse des prix et une moindre disponibilité des produits nécessitant des substances chimiques PFAS.

Originally published here

Not all PFAS are the same, and why this matters for future regulation

On 17 October, a stakeholder consultation led by the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway on the use of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) closed. By 2022, the European Chemicals Agency is expected to submit its restriction proposal for the use of PFAS in firefighting foams and other products. Combined with pressure from green groups calling for complete avoidance of these chemicals, the European Union is on the brink of a very costly and unfeasible policy move: a complete PFAS ban.

PFAS are man-made chemicals that can be found in a variety of consumer products. Some popular uses include medical equipment, food packaging, and firefighting foam. In the case of medical equipment, for example, these chemical compounds are vital for contamination-resistant gowns and drapes, implantable medical devices, stent grafts, heart patches, sterile container filters, needle retrieval systems, tracheostomies, catheter guide wire for laparoscopy, and inhaler canister coatings.

However, that is not to say that all of these chemicals are safe. When improperly dumped into the water supply, or when the exposure exceeds specific threshold levels, they do pose a danger. These concerns are justified and shouldn’t be understated or misrepresented. At the same time, they shouldn’t direct our attention away from the benefits of PFAS in certain production processes.

Because of their chemical resistance and surface tension lowering properties, PFAS are hard and expensive to replace. A complete ban would put the production of these vital consumer items in jeopardy and patient safety at risk. Declaring all PFAS hazardous without first considering risks associated with each use, and considering the feasibility and safety of alternatives, is a dangerous policy path.

In the United States, calls for a complete ban are also dominating the discourse. The PFAS Action Act, which is currently under review in the Senate, fails to consider that all these chemicals carry different risks depending on their use and exposure levels. The European Union’s approach aims to achieve similar outcomes. The idea is to divide PFAS into two groups: essential and non-essential. However, eventually, all are sought to be phased out.

Both strategies turn a blind eye to the uncomfortable evidence-based truth about these chemicals. PFAS have already been largely phased out from being used where they are not necessary. A  2018 Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry  says that “Industrial releases have been declining since companies began phasing out the production and use of several perfluoroalkyls in the early 2000s.”

A complete ban on PFAS being used also doesn’t necessarily mean that these man-made chemicals will cease to be produced or sold. The unintended consequence of extremely restrictive policies is a spike in production elsewhere. Bans in the EU and US will likely result in China ramping up their production. And given how necessary PFAS can be for both medical equipment, and consumer goods, an EU or US ban would be simply shifting production to countries who largely fail to meet general standards for environmental stewardship.

It is crucial that while assessing PFAS, policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic do not fall prey to calls for complete avoidance. PFAS are diverse and while some of them might need to be restricted or banned, others are crucial and necessary, as in the case of medical equipment. One size doesn’t fit all, and the necessary uses of PFAS, especially when they don’t pose a risk to human health, shouldn’t be left out of the discourse.

Originally published here

Complete PFAS ban not feasible: the EU needs a different approach

Brussels, Belgium – Yesterday, a stakeholder consultation led by the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway on the use of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) closed. 

The prospect of an EU PFAS ban is as real as ever, with a number of green groups skewing the discourse towards complete avoidance. In the US, the situation is hardly different, where the PFAS Action Act will soon face a final vote in the Senate.

In response, the Consumer Choice Center’s Maria Chaplia and David Clement published articles in The Parliament Magazine and Real Clear Markets arguing that “while manmade chemicals have their risks, that risk level ultimately depends on each use case and exposure.”

Key points raised in the articles:

“PFAS can be found – but not limited to – in household items and other consumer products, medical equipment, food packaging, and firefighting foam. Their popularity can be explained by their unique qualities, such as chemical resistance and surface tension lowering properties. PFAS’ effectiveness has made them hard and costly to replace”, argue Maria Chaplia and David Clement.

“Some PFAS ban/restrictions might very well be needed and justified but banning an entire category of evolving products won’t serve the consumer. A more appropriate response would be to evaluate these chemicals and substances based on the risk they present and how they are used, rather than lumping them all together and risk enacting bad policy that will have a myriad of consequences”, said Chaplia and Clement

“For example, some of these chemical compounds are vital for contamination-resistant gowns and drapes, implantable medical devices, stent grafts, heart patches, sterile container filters, needle retrieval systems, tracheostomies, catheter guide wire for laparoscopy and inhaler canister coatings. To ban all these chemical compounds, without evaluating the risk associated with each use, puts lifesaving medical technologies in jeopardy and patient safety at risk” 

“Heavyhanded PFAS regulations will also jeopardize the EU smartphone market, used by the vast majority of  Europeans everyday. As cell phones and 5G technology continue to grow and require faster speeds at smaller sizes, these compounds are involved in everything from producing semiconductors to helping cool data centers for cloud computing. Forcibly removing these chemicals from the production process, especially because they present very little risk to humans, will drastically disrupt supply chains and inflate costs that will hurt low-income people the hardest.” argue Chaplia and Clement

John Oliver’s “One Size Fits All” Approach For PFAS Is Misguided

Washington, DC –  British showman and comedian John Oliver, known for his punchy and thorough rants on public policy, has set his sights on a new target: man made chemicals, known as PFAS. In his now viral rant, Oliver explains how PFAS chemicals are problematic for human health and wants all of these chemicals to be declared hazardous by law. This is, in fact, what Congress is attempting to do via the PFAS Action Act, which has passed the House and is waiting for a final vote in the Senate.

David Clement, North American Affairs Manager with the DC based Consumer Choice Center urged caution in regards to regulating these man made chemicals: ” While some bans or restrictions might very well be needed and justified, banning an entire category of evolving products won’t serve the consumer. A more appropriate response would be to evaluate these chemicals and substances based on the risk they present and how they are used, rather than lumping them all together and risk enacting bad policy that will have a myriad of consequences.”

“For example, these chemicals are commonly used to create a long list of medical devices and equipment and done so in a way that presents very little risk to human health. To declare all these chemical compounds hazardous, without evaluating the risk associated with each use, puts lifesaving medical technologies in jeopardy and patient safety at risk,” said Clement

“These chemicals are also used in the production process for smartphones, which 270 million Americans currently use. As cell phones and 5G technology continue to grow and require faster speeds at smaller sizes, these compounds are involved in everything from producing semiconductors to helping cool data centers for cloud computing. Forcibly removing these chemicals from the production process, even when they present very little risk to humans, will drastically disrupt supply chains and inflate costs that will hurt low-income people the hardest,” said Clement.

“Rather than a “one size fits all” approach to PFAS, regulators should keep in mind that risk is established by looking at the hazard a substance presents, and the exposure to that hazard. There is a significant difference between the dumping of these chemicals into water ways, which is atrocious and should never happen, and the necessary use of these chemicals in various production processes, which pose little to no risk to consumer health and safety. Failing to see the difference, and lumping all of these modern chemicals into one regulatory basket, will create a laundry list of negative externalities,” said Clement

Why the EU and US shouldn’t follow the green groups advice on PFAS

The European Commission has committed to phasing out man-made chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. Initially, the European Chemicals Agency was expected to submit its restriction proposal for firefighting foams this month, but the deadline has now been extended until January 2022. For other uses, the deadline is also2022.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the US Congress is attempting to achieve similar goals through the PFAS Action Act, which is now waiting for a final vote in the Senate. Unsurprisingly, the ban was pushed for by green groups, who tend to confuse hazard with risk, and favour the “ban them all” approach.

PFAS can be found – but not limited to – in household items and other consumer products, medical equipment, food packaging, and firefighting foam. Their popularity can be explained by their unique qualities, such as chemical resistance and surface tension lowering properties. PFAS’ effectiveness has made them hard and costly to replace.

“Forcibly removing these chemicals from the production process, especially because they present very little risk to humans, will drastically disrupt supply chains and inflate costs”

At the same time, the use of PFAS has been linked with various adverse effects, such as infertility, thyroid and liver diseases, when improperly dumped into the water supply. These concerns are justified and shouldn’t be understated or misrepresented. However, as with pretty much everything, it is the amount of exposure that counts towards a risk-based assessment, as opposed to complete hazard avoidance. Because there are more than 4700 chemicals that fall into the PFAS group, and they all carry different levels of risk and hazard, we have to be careful not to put them all in the same basket.

The European Union aims to divide these chemicals into two groups: essential and non-essential, but eventually all are sought to be banned. That said, PFAS have already been largely phased out from being used where they are not necessary. A 2018 Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry says that “Industrial releases have been declining since companies began phasing out the production and use of several perfluoroalkyls in the early 2000s.”

There is no guarantee that phasing out PFAS will make us safer. Both EU and US banned bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in plastics, in baby bottles on the premise that it carries health risks for kids. However, BPS and BPF that are typically used as substitutes have been found to be anything but harmless. In fact, even low exposure to BPS had a significant impact on the embryos’ development.

A complete ban on PFAS being used also doesn’t necessarily mean that these man-made chemicals will cease to be produced, it just means that other countries like China will likely ramp up their production. And given how necessary PFAS can be for both medical equipment, and consumer goods, an EU or US ban would be quite problematic.

For example, some of these chemical compounds are vital for contamination-resistant gowns and drapes, implantable medical devices, stent grafts, heart patches, sterile container filters, needle retrieval systems, tracheostomies, catheter guide wire for laparoscopy and inhaler canister coatings. To declare all these chemical compounds hazardous, without evaluating the risk associated with each use, puts lifesaving medical technologies in jeopardy and patient safety at risk.

“Policymakers on both sides of the pond should take a risk-based approach towards the regulation of PFAS rather than falling prey to green activists’ calls for complete avoidance”

On the consumer product side, as cell phones and 5G technology continue to grow and require faster speeds at smaller sizes, these compounds are involved in everything from producing semiconductors to helping cool data centres for cloud computing. Forcibly removing these chemicals from the production process, especially because they present very little risk to humans, will drastically disrupt supply chains and inflate costs for the 472 million Europeans who currently use a smartphone.

Policymakers on both sides of the pond should take a risk-based approach towards the regulation of PFAS rather than falling prey to green activists’ calls for complete avoidance. Although some of these chemicals might need to be banned, or restricted, banning them all might end up leaving us with even worse alternatives that might take a greater toll on our health and wellbeing. These chemicals need a very rigid and detailed regulatory approach, but one that avoids the “one size fits all” lens.

Originally published here

John Oliver’s Misguided Rant About Man-Made Chemicals

British showman and comedian John Oliver, known for his punchy and thorough rants on public policy, has set his sights on a new target: man made chemicals, known as PFAS. In his now viral rant, Oliver explains how PFAS chemicals are problematic for human health and wants all of these chemicals to be declared hazardous by law. This is, in fact, what Congress is attempting to do via the PFAS Action Act, which has passed the House and is waiting for a final vote in the Senate.

While Oliver’s rant does accurately explain some of the serious problems these man-made chemicals present, especially if dumped into waterways and contaminating the water supply, there is a lot that the late night show host misses in regards to how, or why, these chemicals should be regulated.

It is important to note that these chemicals have been largely phased out from being used where they are not necessary. A  2018 Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry says that “Industrial releases have been declining since companies began phasing out the production and use of several perfluoroalkyls in the early 2000s.” In addition to that, a CDC report shows that since 2000, “mean blood levels of PFOS have declined approximately 84 percent and mean blood levels of PFOA have declined about 70 percent,” and recent reports are showing that bodies of water contain only trace amounts of PFAS, and they have been steadily declining. These are all positive developments, and should be celebrated. 

The issue with the “one size fits all” approach, advocated by Oliver and being pushed by Congress, is that this fails to appropriately address the hazards and risks presented by each of the 5000chemicals that fall under the classification of PFAS. This is an important distinction, because the risk that PFAS presents for human health largely depends on how humans are exposed to these chemicals. 

The most popular example is when, decades ago, the man-made chemical C8 was dumped into waterways, causing an array of health issues and substantial lawsuits. This is of course problematic, never should have happened, and should never happen again. That said, the use of other man-made chemicals, which would be classified as hazardous if Congress proceeds down this path, are vital for medical technologies and consumer products, and are used in a way that presents very little, if any, threat to human health.

For example, some of these chemical compounds are vital for contamination-resistant gowns and drapes, implantable medical devices, stent grafts, heart patches, sterile container filters, needle retrieval systems, tracheostomies, catheter guide wire for laparoscopy and inhaler canister coatings. To declare all these chemical compounds hazardous, without evaluating the risk associated with each use, puts lifesaving medical technologies in jeopardy and patient safety at risk. In fact, Congressman Larry Bucshon, who was a heart surgeon, criticized the PFAS Action Act for failing to include a revision that would exempt PFAS use in medical devices, stating that the bill in its current form would jeopardize access to life-saving drugs.

Another major disruption that would occur if the act proceeds as written is it would significantly jeopardize the domestic smartphone market, used by the vast majority of  Americans everyday. As cell phones and 5G technology continue to grow and require faster speeds at smaller sizes, these compounds are involved in everything from producing semiconductors to helping cool data centers for cloud computing. Forcibly removing these chemicals from the production process, especially because they present very little risk to humans, will drastically disrupt supply chains and inflate costs that will hurt low-income people the hardest.

It should be said that lawmakers and late night talk show hosts (yes even them) must realize that regulations are enacted based on risk, and risk is the hazard a substance presents multiplied by the exposure to it. Banning PFAS from being used in the production process for smartphones is akin to banning mercury from being used in thermometers because it is harmful when ingested, or banning chlorine from being used in pools because it is harmful if you ingest it. 

Some bans/restrictions might very well be needed and justified but banning an entire category of evolving products won’t serve the consumer. A more appropriate response would be to evaluate these chemicals and substances based on the risk they present and how they are used, rather than lumping them all together and risk enacting bad policy that will have a myriad of consequences. 

Originally published here

Scroll to top