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One size doesn’t fit all

Intel’s microchip expansion could fail if Congress bans this crucial set of chemicals

Opinion: A bill before Congress calls for a heavy-handed ban of PFAS, a set of chemicals that are vital to semiconductor production.

A severe shortage in computer chips roiled the U.S. economy last year, costing auto manufacturers $210 billion in revenue alone as cars sat in lots waiting for chips to be installed.

Other sectors took hits, too, given that semiconductor are used in everything from computers, smartphones, consumer electronics to appliances and medical equipment. 

Luckily for consumers, in response to the shortages, Intel has broken ground on two chip manufacturing plants in Arizona to help secure supply chains and prevent further disruptions. When all is said and done, Chandler will be home to six semiconductor production facilities, employing around 15,000 people

The size and scope of these investments cannot be understated.

The growth experienced in Arizona’s chip manufacturing facilities may be stifled, however, if Congress proceeds with heavy-handed bans for perfluoroalkyls (PFAS) under the PFAS Action Act.

We need PFAS to make semiconductors

Perfluoroalkyls, a grouping of 4,000-plus manmade chemicals, are a vital part of the semiconductor production process – primarily because of their chemical resistance and surface tension-lowering properties. This makes the chips durable and resistant to liquids and erosion. 

The PFAS Action Act could seriously jeopardize chip manufacturing, and ultimately make the chip shortage much worse before it gets better. These chemicals are vital for the production of semiconductors, predominantly the use of coolant, and if Congress continues down the path of wanting to ban PFAS then consumers will be in a world of trouble.

What’s at stake:Separate semiconductor bill could be an economic boon

We know that this is a predictable outcome of heavy-handed PFAS policy because it is exactly what we are seeing in Europe, where officials in Belgium paused production at a chemical plant in response to the tightening of environmental regulations.

Reporting done by Business Korea highlighted that semiconductor producers had only 30 to 90 days of coolant inventory left before they would encounter serious production problems.

If Congress continues down the path it is on, it is naive to think that disruptions like this aren’t headed for the American market, with U.S. consumers bearing the brunt of the chaos. 

Keep them out of water. Don’t ban them outright

This isn’t to say that PFAS producers should be able to operate without any regard for the environment and PFAS exposure. In fact, the opposite is true.

Regulating PFAS has to be done from the perspective of clean drinking water, as opposed to declaring all PFAS chemicals hazardous. Ensuring proper production standards to avoid dumping or leakage helps solve the problem of contaminated water, without resorting to an outright ban of PFAS.

For chip production, this is vital, given that there are no viable alternatives to using PFAS in the production process.  

This is especially important in the context of everyday consumer products that rely on these chemicals in the manufacturing process. If production standards for PFAS are upheld, and enforced, we can tackle the clean drinking water issue while allowing for PFAS to be used where it presents little to no risk to consumers, like the production of semiconductors. 

This is the balancing act that Congress has to consider when deciding what is next regarding PFAS. It needs to evaluate the emerging science on PFAS, evaluating not just hazard but, more importantly, the exposure levels that make PFAS risky for Americans and from where those exposures come. 

PFAS Action Act could doom chip production

In December, the Australian National University published a study on PFAS. The findings provide some helpful insights into what anti-PFAS efforts should focus. 

One of the key findings was that exposure to PFAS in affected communities almost entirely came from water and firefighting foam. PFAS contamination was a result of poor production practices, or criminal dumping, and when PFAS firefighting foam leeched into the ground.

Those who drink contaminated water, or eat locally grown food that is contaminated, are at the highest risk of PFAS-associated health problems. This suggests that poor production processes carry most of the risk, while the risks associated with consumer items and other PFAS applications are limited, like the use of PFAS in the production of semiconductors. 

A clean drinking water approach to PFAS is entirely appropriate, but getting there cannot, and should not, result in outright production bans.

If Congress can narrow its sights on proper production processes, American consumers can avoid water contamination, without the chaos of an exacerbated semiconductor shortage and job losses in Arizona.  

But if Congress proceeds with the PFAS Action Act, Intel’s investment in Chandler and its plans to boost domestic chip production may be destined to fail. 

Originally published here

Why Gen Z Should Ditch ‘Virtue’ in Consumer Purchases and Embrace the Trader Principle

The Peter Principle is playing out in Americans’ purchasing decisions. Here’s why that’s creating social disharmony.

In 1969, Laurence J. Peter published “The Peter Principle,” which asserted that “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” Now, although Dr. Peter claimed to be kidding, we often see the Peter Principle play out—productive employees will be promoted over time, taking on new roles and responsibilities which they are sometimes ill equipped to handle. According to one study, the data were clear: not all great salespeople make great sales managers.

Nevertheless, people like being promoted and tend to take pride in their positions, even when done poorly. If this is how we feel in relation to our employment patterns, perhaps the same can be true for our consumer habits, particularly since Dr. Peter asserted that his principle was “the key to an understanding of the whole structure of civilization.”

So, to shift from internal matters and production practices within an organization to external matters and consumption practices for a firm’s customer base, it seems the Peter Principle can still apply.

As our earning power increases, so too does our purchasing power, and we go from smaller simpler purchases to suit our needs (what groceries should I get for dinner tonight) to complex and bigger purchases to suit our wants (what Traeger grill should I get for the summer season). And given that we lack the expertise for truly knowing the worth of all our product purchases, we are guided by reviews, the news, and marketing messages.

Marketers promote value, or the perception of it, to consumers and change positioning statements and product features according to changing preferences. For instance, mayonnaise marketing campaigns used to focus on flavor, now they focus on nutrition—such as including avocado oil or emphasizing the presence of Omega-3. The recipe tweaks and promotion campaigns tell us we can all feel less guilty about the overuse of this sandwich spread (even though the avocado version isn’t really healthierand few of us know why Omega-3 matters).

Nevertheless, the more we can spend, the more options we want. And although consumers are more educated today than ever before, purchase decisions are becoming increasingly based on emotions—and marketers are leveraging this fact.

Consumers in advanced markets look for psychological attributes rather than primary ones; that is, feelings trump function. This is why people will pay big bucks for a Prada bag even though a Prada knockoff would likely suffice at a fraction of the price. Brands like Prada sell on the basis of exclusivity and esteem, which is why premier labels would rather destroy excess inventory than donate it.

Now all of this is not to say that if someone wants to spend a chunk of change on an expensive purse, they need to justify doing so—it is their money, they can do what they like. Consumers should maintain authority over their purchase decisions. However, consumers should also be educated about when the Peter Principle may be setting in, especially when basing their purchases according to a company’s purpose rather than its product offerings.

For example, take Patagonia patrons. By buying Patagonia, they are showing support for (allegedly) “the world’s most responsible company.” Patagonia is a company that cares for the environment and inclusivity so much so that it has even redirected a greater amount of its marketing resources towards forms of activism rather than the advertising of its products. It has even gone so far as to limit who it will sell to if the customer doesn’t “prioritize the planet.”

Its morality marketing has swooned well-off consumers and its success rates in sales have prompted others within the industry to follow suit by putting “the climate” before the company and its customers.

What is rather laughable though is that a truly environmentally friendly and inclusive business would be your community thrift store—selling what is already in existence and at a cost conducive to nearly every budget. But don’t even think about donating your used Patagonia to those in your local community, instead send it back to Patagonia to receive credit toward more of their products via the Worn Wear collection. Now, instead of getting a windbreaker vest for over $100, you can get a used one for a cool $69.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman would surely call Patagonia’s efforts for social responsibility a lucrative form of window-dressing, but it is more severe than that, particularly when consumers are ill-informed on the positions Patagonia is postulating.

For instance, Patagonia has denounced the use of PFAS despite incorporating this chemical compound in its own products as a moisture barrier for its durable water repellent product offerings. PFAS is found in many household items and although misuse and overuse of these ‘Forever Chemicals’ is problematic, prohibiting use of them in proper form is also problematic given the benefits they bring.

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Bill Would Give US Production of Vital Electronics to China

The consequences of a bill in Congress will make you want to buy a new phone and laptop, provided that inflation leaves you with enough disposable income to do that.

While Americans are dealing with the effects of record-high gas prices, Democrats in Congress are suggesting the so-called PFAS Action Act, which would declare perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances as hazardous chemicals. This legislation would open the gates for a ban on a large set of substances needed to produce everything from consumer electronics and vital medical equipment.

In an effort to preserve clean drinking water and protect consumer health, Democrats (and a handful of Republican co-sponsors of the bill) are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. PFAS, according to the CDC, englobes over 9,000 chemicals, which all have varying uses and severity.

Lawmakers in Washington are relying on cases of malpractice, when companies violated their duty to protect local communities by failing to ensure safe use, transport and disposal, to pull the rug out from this large set of substances.

Ultimately, why care? No citizen likes the idea of potentially toxic chemicals being in use at all, so why not just endorse this piece of legislation?

In fact, while within the set of 9,000 chemicals, some of them may very well need phasing out, others are essential to key American industries.

For instance, these chemicals are vital for the production of semiconductors, predominantly the use of coolant, and a ban would worsen the already existing chip shortage, which affects anything from mobile phones to electric cars. Computer chip shortages cost the U.S. economy $240 billion in 2021.

That said, waiting another six months for your electric vehicle or stomaching a significant price increase on your latest smartphone is just the tip of the iceberg. While regulators in the United States or Europe may decide to ban PFAS, manufacturers are unlikely to follow suit.

In fact, Beijing is famously less concerned than Western nations when it comes to chemical regulation, and would be more than happy to rake up the market shares made available by destructive environmental restrictions.

What message is Congress sending to American companies by considering this bill? Intel has announced it will spend $20 billion on a chip factory in Ohio, to stop the increasingly endemic lack of semiconductors. Presumably, Washington is thanking them by stripping the company of the tools to manufacture components and outsourcing the task to producers abroad.

When dealing with consumer goods, we should prefer that they are made with a transparent and reasonable regulatory framework that punishes wrongdoing to the full extent of the law, instead of relying on imports from nations that do not share our vision of safe manufacturing.

Originally published here

The conflict between government agencies regarding PFAS

As discussed by the Star Tribune’s June 27 editorial (“Needed action on ‘forever chemicals'”), the Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to create clean drinking water thresholds on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Given the history of egregious cases of chemical dumping, like what was done by Dupont, popularized by the film “Dark Waters” with Mark Ruffalo, one can see why the EPA is taking such an approach to how PFAS are regulated in the United States.

Strangely enough though, the EPA’s approach to PFAS is at odds with another government body, the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA, the regulatory body responsible for ensuring that pharmaceuticals and medical devices work and that their health benefits outweigh their known risks, has continuously approved both drugs and devices that contain PFAS. Most don’t know that the medical community is heavily reliant on PFAS products. Take, for example, medical implants like vascular grafts, stent grafts, surgical meshes, catheter tubes/wire and heart patches. It is estimated that 8% to 10% of Americans have implantable medical devices, many of which rely on PFAS and are approved by the FDA. In fact, the implantable medical-devices market, valued at $72.2 billion, is expected to grow significantly as the American population continues to get older.

Drugs containing PFAS and conditions with treatments that introduce the presence of PFAS include, but are not limited to, tachyarrhythmias (flecainide), antidepressants (fluoxetine), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (celecoxib), antibiotics (levofloxacin), rheumatoid arthritis therapeutics (leflunomide), cholesterol-lowering agents (atorvastin) and even COVID-19 antivirals such as Paxlovid.

For all of those drugs and devices, the notoriously overcautious FDA has clearly stated that whatever PFAS exposure exists with these products, they are safe to the point where the benefits far outweigh the risks. Simply put, the presence of PFAS for these drugs and devices passes a safety check and a cost-benefit analysis.

What we have here is two government agencies taking drastically different approaches to the issue of PFAS. On one hand, the FDA is doing a cost-benefit analysis and approving the use of PFAS across the medical sector, while the EPA is seeking to enact drinking water standards that are mutually exclusive to the FDA’s conclusions.

So how should regulators proceed given that the left hand and right hand of the federal government appear to be at odds with each other? One key step forward would be to individually assess each chemical within the PFAS umbrella, identify where hazards exist and calculate where Americans are actually at risk — with “risk” being the hazard present multiplied by the exposure levels.

After doing so, regulators should focus on ensuring proper production practices to avoid instances of dumping, and severely punish those companies caught being reckless in the production or disposal process. That is the approach that can keep Americans safe and their drinking water clean, without running the risk of having the regulatory system be so stringent that production ceases and American patients are left without the lifesaving drugs and devices they need.

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

Originally published here

EU’s green agenda and PFAS ban are incompatible

As part of the climate agenda, the European Union and member states have advocated the phasing out of gas-powered vehicles by 2035. The goal is to have at least 30 million electric vehicles on European roads by 2030, which would be a 2900% increase from the current amount. With demand for electric vehicles soaring in the EU, domestic industries are looking for innovative ways to establish supply chains for batteries and other components.

On the one hand, the EU seeks to boost the market for electric vehicles to achieve its climate targets. On the other hand, the proposed blanket PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) ban, pledged by the European Commission, will make it impossible to manufacture EVs in the EU.

PFAS are key to the production of EVs. However, instead of considering the spillover effects of banning over 4000 chemicals that carry individual risks, the EU decided to take the same approach as the US move towards banning all of them. In the US, the PFAS Action Act which would heavily restrict all these substances is awaiting the final decision in the Senate. Both the EU and US are on the verge of making the same policy mistake that will achieve nothing except make consumer products more expensive and hinder innovation.

PFAS are used to produce life-saving medical equipment and are vital for contamination-resistant gowns, implantable medical devices, heart patches, etc. These chemicals are also widely used in green technology production. In particular, solar panels, wind turbines, and lithium-ion batteries.

Fluoropolymers (one specific class of PFAS) are an essential part of green technology. Fluoropolymers are used to produce lithium batteries, the power source behind electric vehicles. They are durable, heat and chemical resistant, and have superior dielectric properties, all of these qualities make it hard for other chemicals to compete. If PFAS are banned as a class, the green ambitions of switching to electric vehicles would be extremely difficult to turn into policy. The blanket PFAS ban would cause further disruptions in the EV supply chain, increasing costs for consumers and ultimately making them less attractive as an alternative to gasoline vehicles.

Fluoropolymers are also used in coating and sealing solar panels and wind turbines that protect against harsh weather conditions. Fluoropolymers provide safety by preventing leaks and environmental releases in a range of renewable energy applications. The unique characteristics of PFAS such as water, acid, and oil resistance make these substances hard to replace.

Unless damaged, solar panels continue to produce energy beyond their lifeline. Fluoropolymers are what make solar panels durable. Going solar requires significant investments and without fluoropolymers, the risk of producing and installing them will increase, and production shortages will follow. This is exactly what is currently happening in Europe with microchips, which rely on PFAS in the production process. The closing of a plant in Belgium has left semiconductor manufacturers on the verge of serious production delays.

That is not to say that PFAS are risk-free. A 2021 study by Australian National University confirms that the PFAS exposure does carry some risk, but that most exposure comes from contaminated water. If EU regulators really want to make a difference, their legislation should focus on regulating PFAS from a clean water approach, as opposed to a full ban that comes with a long list of externalities.

The proposed ban is also problematic because fundamentally it won’t drive down demand for PFAS. Banning will shift production to countries like China, where environmental considerations are nearly non-existent. As a result, European regulators will be giving China the upper hand for both EV battery production, solar panels, and semiconductors. Not to mention, banning a substance that is key to so many production processes will magnify the damage caused by inflation. For European EV and solar panels producers, the PFAS ban will be a huge hurdle that is extremely difficult to overcome.

If the European Union is really as determined to pursue a transition to EVs as they suggest, the PFAS blanket ban should be called off. Instead, PFAS should be assessed individually and where poor production processes result in water contamination, the government should intervene.

Originally published here

EU Chemical Policy Could Undermine Semiconductor Manufacturing Efforts

A new report published by the Consumer Choice Center highlights how heavy handed chemical policy could undermine Europe’s efforts for semiconductor manufacturing.

The Consumer Choice Center’s David Clement, co-author of the report explained, “In February the EU announced the European Chips Act, with the goal of increasing supply chain resilience and boosting domestic production from 9% to 20% by 2030. Unfortunately, if the EU gives in to efforts calling for a ban, or phase out of PFAS, the goals of the Chips Act will be impossible to achieve.”

“PFAS, a grouping of 4000+ man-made chemicals, are vital for the production of semiconductors. If the EU seeks to ban their use then increasing domestic chip manufacturing will be incredibly difficult. Europe will ultimately end up failing to meet it’s chip production goals, or it will become almost entirely dependent on China for these chemicals. Both of these scenarios are problematic. If the EU is serious about increasing domestic chip production they have to also work to secure the key inputs involved in the production process, and PFAS are one of those key inputs.” said Clement

“In fact, we know that this is what will happen if the EU opts for a phase out. This is exactly what happened when Belgium paused production at a PFAS chemical plant in response to the tightening of environmental regulations. Reporting done by Business Korea highlighted that semiconductor producers have only 30 to 90 days of coolant inventory left before they will encounter serious production problems.” said Clement

“A clean drinking water approach to PFAS is entirely appropriate, but getting there cannot, and should not, result in outright production bans. If the EU can narrow its sights on proper production processes to avoid water contamination, they can protect European citizens without the chaos of an exacerbated semiconductor shortage,” said Clement.

Originally published here

Democrats Can’t Have Both PFAS Ban and EV Transition: Choose One

As part of the climate agenda, Democrats have advocated the phasing out of motor vehicles. The goal is to ensure that electric vehicles make up half of all new vehicles sold by 2030. To accomplish this task, tax credits of up to $12,500 could be offered.

Democrats have put electric vehicles at the heart of their climate ambitions. While that all sounds great on paper, the reality is more complex. The extensively demonised PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances)–known as forever chemicals–which Democrats want to ban are key to the production of EVs. Either Democrats call off the prospect of a full PFAS ban, or their EV agenda will never be realised.

PFAS are the latest target of regulators in the United States. They are a group of over 4000 chemicals that carry individual risks; benefits and availability of substitutes vary as well. Turning a blind eye to the complexity of these substances, Democrats introduced the PFAS Action Act in April 2021. The Act is now with the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works.

PFAS are used to produce life-saving medical equipment and are vital for contamination-resistant gowns, implantable medical devices, heart patches, etc. These chemicals are also widely used in green technology production. In particular, solar panels, wind turbines, and lithium-ion batteries.

Fluoropolymers (one specific class of PFAS) are an essential part of green technology. Fluoropolymers are used to produce lithium batteries, the power source behind electric vehicles. They are durable, heat and chemical resistant, and have superior dielectric properties, all of these qualities make it hard for other chemicals to compete. If PFAS are banned as a class, the green ambitions of switching to electric vehicles would be extremely difficult to turn into policy. The PFAS Action Act would cause further disruptions in the EV supply chain, increasing costs for consumers and ultimately making them less attractive as an alternative to gasoline vehicles.

Fluoropolymers are also used in coating and sealing solar panels and wind turbines that protect against harsh weather conditions. Fluoropolymers provide safety by preventing leaks and environmental releases in a range of renewable energy applications. The unique characteristics of PFAS such as water, acid, and oil resistance make these substances hard to replace. 

Unless damaged, solar panels continue to produce energy beyond their lifeline. Fluoropolymers are what make solar panels durable. Going solar requires significant investments and without fluoropolymers, the risk of producing and installing them will increase. It is already expensive to build solar panels in the U.S., and the blanket PFAS will exacerbate it. In fact, this is exactly what is happening in Europe with microchips, which rely on PFAS in the production process, where the closing of a plant in Belgium is on the verge of causing serious production delays.

That is not to say that PFAS are risk-free. A 2021 study by ​​Australian National University confirms that the PFAS exposure comes entirely from water. If Democrats really want to make a difference, their legislation should focus on processes that are harmful instead of single handedly banning all PFAS. 

The proposed ban is also problematic because fundamentally it won’t drive down demand for PFAS. Banning will shift production to countries like China, where environmental considerations are nearly non-existent. As a result, American regulators will be giving China the upper hand for both EV battery production, solar panels, and semiconductors. Not to mention, that banning a substance that is key to so many production processes will magnify the damage caused by inflation. For American EV and solar panels producers, the PFAS ban will be a huge hurdle that is extremely difficult to overcome.

If Democrats are really as determined to pursue a transition to EVs as they suggest, the PFAS blanket ban should be called off. Instead, PFAS should be assessed individually and where poor production processes result in water contamination, the government should intervene.

The PFAS Packaging Predicament: McDonald’s Isn’t Loving It

The packaging of a number of popular food items has attracted the attention of Consumer Reports, given the presence of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), because of which fast-food giant McDonald’s is currently facing class-action lawsuits. Claimants are citing health risk concerns, yet McDonald’s is currently abiding by industry standards. So let’s review what PFAS are, some contradictions for this case, and the overall implications of PFAS for business practices.

What are PFAS and what are the concerns?

PFAS is a chemical family of over 9,000 man-made substances, ranging from gas to liquids, which have a variety of applications, from being a moisture barrier for tech gadgets to serving as a means for improving the durability of medical implants

PFAS are present in numerous household items, and are often referred to as ‘Forever Chemicals’ given the difficulty in breaking down their concocted components. It is precisely this lasting power that makes PFAS appealing for food containers. Packaging with PFAS can handle heat, steam, saturation, and grease – making it quite the innovation. 

The superior functionality of PFAS, however, doesn’t mean they should be used in excess. Just because someone has a fast car doesn’t mean he should recklessly speed down the highway. 

To be sure, there are significant health risks when overexposure to PFAS occur and spillovers sometimes happen. Fortunately though, 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 declining.

When higher levels of PFAS are found to be present in ground materials and waterways, it is often connected to communities with nearby military bases and fire training sites. PFAS are a major component for firefighting foam, and although this foam does pose serious health hazards, there is currently no alternative that is as effective

Given this understanding, it seems obvious that the focus should be on how to prevent the need for using firefighting foam rather than the banning of PFAS altogether. Just like that fast car, it is handy to have in an emergency (and blanket bans rarely result in positive outcomes).

What’s next and what was already in the works?

It should be noted that if McDonald’s could have more environmentally friendly packaging, it likely would. According to its 2020-2021 Purpose and Impact Progress Reportlast year, it made great strides in ensuring that a majority of its food packaging (99.6 percent) was derived from recycled or sustainable fiber. The report states “Improving the sustainability of our packaging and moving toward a circular economy are top priorities for our business.” 

But change takes time, and it is not clear as to what the lawsuit claimants would have McDonald’s do in the meantime – revert to Styrofoam? And to be frank, McDonald’s founding core competencies were in serving customers burgers and fries, not sustainable sourcing or package manufacturing.

PFAS will likely remain a core component of containerization strategies for food retailers until something better comes along that is either comparable or superior. And actually, McDonald’s may help lead the charge with funding to find alternative options given its previous pledge to continuously improve in this realm. 

In a statement given to Today, McDonald’s asserted that it “stands behind its commitment to the safety of its food and food packaging” and that the process of taking steps to remove PFAS use in packaging began in 2008 with a target to completely eliminate it by 2025.

So to get slammed with a lawsuit for its packaging seems like a slap in the face, particularly since many restaurant chains are aspiring to recoup lost profits as pandemic policies are lifted. And for restaurants aspiring for a rebound, calls for modifying packaging purchases may be too much to bear during a time of supply chain constraints.

What are the intentions and contradictions?

For those truly scared of PFAS presence at McDonald’s, it is important to remember that no one is forcing anyone to eat there (and those concerned should probably refrain from fast food altogether, given that a majority of restaurants from Panera to Popeyes have PFAS levels found in their packaging).

The hard truth is that being good for the environment isn’t always conducive to current needs. Take for example the extreme use of single-use plastics throughout the pandemic, let alone the pollution generated from disposable masks

It is also important to remember that when we pressure firms to do what is thought to be better, it can sometimes turn out to be worse – take how the banning of plastic straws can backfire, or how cotton tote bags can be a bigger problem than their plastic counterparts, or how even tree-planting campaigns can become environmentally costly.

As with all in life, there are tradeoffs – which is why PFAS use should be assessedaccording to the risk-related exposure for each chemical as well as the purpose of its use. Effort should also be placed on how best to test and treat PFAS presence when it does reach hazardous levels and any discovery of the misuse of these chemicals should be punished. 

And this brings us to the irony of the McDonald’s packaging problem. It is doing nothing wrong since the FDA has approved the use of PFAS in food packaging. 

As noted by the FDA, “the FDA does not have any indication that these substances are a human health concern, in other words a food safety risk in human food, at the levels found in this limited sampling.”

As such, the present lawsuits are not only a curious occurrence, but impose unwarranted pressure on any retailer tied to PFAS presence. 

And for those jumping on the bandwagon as a contributor to the fast-food court case claims, consideration should be given to the collateral damage that may occur. Over 90 percent of McDonald’s restaurants are franchises, meaning most McDonald’s stores are owned and operated by small business owners within your community. 

Smaller shops unaffiliated with McDonald’s may also be affected and fearfully pivot their packaging purchases despite the fact that what is being used is safe and approved, which is an important point: McDonald’s must consider more than the safety of the environment; it also must ensure the safety (as well as satisfaction) of its customers. For example, although PLA (polylactic acid)-coated paper could be an alternative packaging choice for McDonald’s, this material is not well-suited for heat transfer, and so someone ordering a hot beverage may feel the burn (and McDonald’s is no stranger to coffee-related court cases). 

What is the role for the consumer?

Before complaining in court or accusing wrongdoing, customers should cool it with the sue-happy culture and take accountability for the role they play, since history has shown that regardless of whether an organization wishes to do good for the planet, it is all for naught if consumers are not on board. 

And perhaps no firm knows this better than Frito Lay. For four years, it invested in the creation of a fully compostable bag for its SunChip snacks, only to have it be phased out in a matter of 18 months due to consumer complaints. The reason for shunning the SunChip sustainability effort was simply because consumers didn’t like the noise it made. 

Just imagine the number of complaints that McDonald’s would receive from boisterous buyers if its packaging failed to keep grease drippings at bay, or the heat of coffee contained. 

Considerations and Implications

New inventions are making the world better and safer every day, and given that PFAS impact numerous industries, there is a strong incentive for alternative innovations to come about over time to appease the various stakeholders present – thereby leading to safer options. 

Take for instance, vaping, which is 95 percent less harmful than cigarettes. Vaping has proved to be a worthwhile alternative for those seeking to quit but have found little success in kicking their smoking habit. Although it’d be best not to ingest any nicotine from the start, vaping is certainly a step in the right direction for those eager to transition away from tobacco consumption. 

And, while on the subject of consumption, most people would probably be better off not eating Big Macs on a regular basis. Even McDonald’s acknowledges this and has rolled out the McPlant – a vegan friendly alternative. And for now, McPlant sales are proving strongand PFAS packaging concerns don’t seem to be a deterrent. 

At the end of the day, experimentation is necessary for firms to advance their offerings, which can lead to an improved society. A marketplace that binds entrepreneurs with rules and rulings will hardly encourage exploration for innovations – and firms will grow to fear their customer base rather than have a desire to cater to them. Consumers should be wary of using the power of the courts rather than the power of their purse to influence business practices.

Originally published here

Is a Semiconductor Shortage Coming?

In January news broke that the computer chip shortages cost the U.S. economy $240 billion in 2021. The shortage heavily affected the auto industry, costing manufacturers $210 billion in revenue as cars sat in lots waiting for chips to be installed. Beyond vehicles, semiconductors are a vital piece of the economy, being used in everything from computers, smartphones, consumer electronics, appliances and medical equipment.

Luckily for consumers, in response to the economic damage caused by shortages Intel announced that it will build a $20 billion chip factory in Ohio to help secure supply chains and prevent further disruptions.

Unfortunately though, those efforts may be limited if Congress proceeds with heavy-handed bans for perfluoroalkyls (PFAS) found in the PFAS Action Act. PFAS, a grouping of 4,000-plus manmade chemicals, are a vital part of the semiconductor production process, primarily because of their chemical resistance and surface tension-lowering properties.

The PFAS Action Act could seriously jeopardize chip manufacturing, and ultimately make the chip shortage much worse before it gets better. These chemicals are vital for the production of semiconductors, predominantly the use of coolant, and if Congress continues down the path of wanting to ban PFAS then  consumers will be in a world of trouble.

And we know that this is a predictable outcome of heavy-handed PFAS policy because this is exactly what we are seeing in Europe, where officials in Belgium paused production at a chemical plant in response to the tightening of environmental regulations. Reporting done by Business Korea highlighted that semiconductor producers have only 30 to 90 days of coolant inventory left before they will encounter serious production problems.

If Congress continues down the path it is on, it is naive to think that disruptions like this aren’t headed for the American market, with U.S. consumers bearing the brunt of the chaos.

Now, this isn’t to say that PFAS producers should be able to operate without any regard for the environment and PFAS exposure. In fact, the opposite is true.

Regulating PFAS has to be done from the perspective of clean drinking water, as opposed to declaring all PFAS chemicals hazardous. Ensuring proper production standards to avoid dumping or leakage helps solve the problem of contaminated water, while avoiding the consequences of banning PFAS altogether.

This is especially important in the context of everyday consumer products that rely on these chemicals in the manufacturing process. If production standards for PFAS are upheld, and enforced, we can tackle the clean drinking water issue while allowing for PFAS to be used where it presents little to no risk to consumers, like the production of semiconductors.

This is the balancing act that Congress has to consider when deciding what is next regarding PFAS. And, while trying to thread the needle on what proper regulation is, it needs to evaluate the emerging science on PFAS, evaluating not just hazard but more important the exposure levels that make PFAS risky for Americans and from where those exposures come.

In December 2021, the Australian National University published a study on PFAS. The findings provide some helpful insights into what anti-PFAS efforts should focus. To assess the risks associated with PFAS, three PFAS-contaminated Australian communities were chosen. One of the key findings was that exposure to PFAS in affected communities almost entirely came from water and firefighting foam. Those who drink contaminated water, or eat locally grown food that is contaminated, are at the highest risk of PFAS-associated health problems. This suggests that poor production processes carry most of the risk, while the risks associated with consumer items and other PFAS applications are limited.

A clean drinking water approach to PFAS is entirely appropriate, but getting there cannot, and should not, result in outright production bans. If Congress can narrow its sights on proper production processes, American consumers can avoid water contamination, without the chaos of an exacerbated semiconductor shortage.

Originally published here

Instead of banning all PFAS, let’s assess them individually

Growing calls to end the use of so-called “forever chemicals”, used in everything from non-stick frying pans to medical equipment, risk causing unnecessary supply chain disruption and illicit trade

Recently, calls for a complete ban of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever-chemicals”, have intensified in the EU. Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark spearheaded a consultation on PFAS to collect the evidence to kick-start this process. Belgium is also tightening its PFAS regulations.

The EU already regulates some uses of PFAS. In line with the Stockholm Convention, the 2019 EU’s Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Regulation restricts the use of Polydioctylfluorenes (PFOS), a group of PFAS. A year later, the European Food and Safety Agency (EFSA) introduced thresholds for four PFAS in food.

Over the past few years, multiple EU Member States have pushed for regulation of individual PFAS. In 2018, Sweden and Germany jointly called on the EU to ban six long-chain PFAS. The greatest anti-PFAS sentiment comes from the Nordic countries, where restrictive national legislation has been introduced.

Sven Giegold, Speaker of the German Green Delegation in the European Parliament, proposed banning all PFAS  “so that manufacturers cannot simply switch to chemically similar compounds that are not yet regulated”. The Greens point to the dangers associated with the PFAS water contamination and health risks.

However, while it might be tempting to act on a whim and ban all PFAS single-handedly, we should take a step back. The complete ban would be a knee-jerk reaction to an issue that requires careful and ideology-free risk analysis.

Under the PFAS umbrella, there are between 4500 and 6000 chemicals. These man-made structures have been in use since the 1940s and have become extensively entrenched in our supply chains. The main reason for this is PFAS’ outstanding water, oil, and acid resistance and surface tension lowering properties.

Without PFAS, vital pieces of medical equipment would be difficult, even impossible, to produce. Surgical gowns, curtains, and floor coverings that contain PFAS help protect doctors from infections during surgeries. A wide variety of life-saving medical equipment uses PFAS. Stent-grafts, or fluoropolymer heart patches, used to cure various heart diseases, have helped millions of patients globally. The durability and reduced contamination of COVID-19 protective equipment is another example of PFAS’s multiple benefits.

PFAS also do carry some risks. When dumped into the water supply or used in excessive amounts, PFAS pose a considerable danger to our health and wellbeing. Much like many products and chemicals used in our daily lives, PFAS are not risk-free. That, however, doesn’t warrant a complete ban. A 2021 study by the Australian National University found that the exposure to PFAS comes almost entirely from water.  The risks associated with consumer items are nearly non-existent.

Because of PFAS’s overreaching use, the advocated ban will disrupt entire supply chains and shift production to countries with no respect for PFAS use thresholds or the environment, such as China. As long as the demand for a specific product – or production component – is there, and alternatives are either unavailable or less effective, the ban will only be exploited by producers in countries with no care for environmental safety standards or made available in the black market.

In the EU, illicit trade in pesticides alone – which have been subject to many bans and regulations – accounts for €1.3 billion annually, equal to the entire economy of Seychelles. A PFAS ban will only exacerbate these numbers unless the group approach is replaced with an individual risk assessment.

PFAS are diverse chemicals, many of which have become an indispensable part of crucial production processes such as the manufacture of medical equipment. Some PFAS, on the other hand, do pose a danger to our health and might require further restrictions or bans. Throwing all PFAS in the same basket out of precaution is neither economically nor scientifically sensible.

To protect European consumers, the European Union should opt for an individual risk assessment This would prevent unnecessary supply chain disruptions and illicit trade spikes. Europe can do better if it chooses science over populist calls for a complete PFAS ban.

Originally published here

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