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One size doesn’t fit all

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

Chemical bothers – how Britain can get better at regulating synthetic substances

If there’s one area where Britain can benefit from better post-Brexit regulation, it’s pulling ourselves away from blanket bans on chemicals that are critical to making the modern world cleaner, cheaper and faster.

PFAS, or Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of over 4,700 individual chemicals, each with specific purposes, that are fundamental to our technologically advanced civilisation. In the medical sector, PFAS are crucial to catheter tubes, stent grafts (used to repair heart damage and heart attacks), and in the anti-viral robes that medical professionals use. Meanwhile, in the fight against climate change, PFAS have been of great importance to sustainability entrepreneurs. Without PFAS, lithium-ion batteries (the key ingredient in electric cars) would be uneconomical and impractical. The gold in catalytic converters, which efficiently catalyses diesel and petrol pollution, is extracted with PFAS products for higher yields, making a reduction in pollution much more effective. Whether it’s heart-stents, fire-protection equipment or fibre-optic cables, PFAS are instrumental in the production of many consumer products. 

These chemicals are not, however, without controversy. Multiple, multi-million-dollar lawsuits have resulted from these hardy and resistant substances infecting the environment and entering our bodies. PFAS, when present in water, food, or livestock, can pose a devastating threat to life and health.

However, that does not mean there should be a cross-substance ban on all PFAS, as is being called for by some activists. After all, there are dozens of technologies and processes which have been proven to effectively treat PFAS contamination before it poses a real threat to the environment or human health. 

It’s a question that’s particularly relevant to the UK at the moment. In March of this year, the Government launched their flagship chemicals regulatory regime; UK Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, & restriction of CHemicals (UK REACH), which has committed to investigating whether a ban for all PFAS substances is suitable. Rebecca Pow, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department of Food, Rural Affairs, and Agriculture has indicated she supports treating all PFAS as a group, rather than on a case-by-case basis. This is a mistake. Chemical regulation is a matter of risk management and mitigation – something that, in our increasingly centralised and planned economy, does not seem to wash with Whitehall.

Activist groups, like Fidra, call for a total ban on PFAS. Would this solve the pollution problem? Not necessarily. Canada, for example, does not produce any PFAS at all, but that just means it relies on imports when it needs these vital chemicals. 

The EU has been keen to promote the removal of PFAS through a movement towards zero-pollutant materials. Whilst an honourable initiative, banning PFAS altogether would be the wrong move.

Instead, by encouraging manufacturers to innovate through tax-free R&D research and other smart incentives, Britain can lead the way in protecting our superior technological products and making the environment safer for us all. Brexit allows for greater diligence in our regulatory sphere, providing us with the opportunity to pursue sensible, risk-conscious regulations.

A ban on PFAS would be a set-back not jut in the fight against Covid, but also climate change and so many other areas of human progress. Indeed, it would be no less than an act of national self-harm – it must not be allowed to happen.

Originally published here

Why ‘hazard based’ agricultural chemical regulation doesn’t work

In many ways, various governments have passed regulations with a “one size fits all” mentality. More often than not, however, this approach wrongly limits consumer choice, and more importantly creates tremendous externalities which are often left unaddressed. Our goal is to highlight instances where the “one size fits all” approach has failed consumers and explain why.

Concern over glyphosate in food has become a major topic the last couple of years and has gained a lot of media attention in a recent study where they found that organic beers and wines contained small traces of glyphosate – a pre-harvest herbicide and harvest aid used on cereal crops like wheat, oats and vegetable seed oils like canola and sunflower. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s safety limit for glyphosate is 100 times greater than the amounts found in the beer and wine samples, and thus, the risk of human contamination is extremely low.Nevertheless, policymakers want to ban glyphosate which would reduce crop yields and make beer and wine even more expensive.

You probably heard about the “Beepocalypse” – the catastrophic scenario in which declining honeybee population is caused by pesticides. However, honeybees aren’t actually declining but increasing. Occasional reductions in honeybee populations are multifactorial, but varrora mites and the viruses they carry are likely the leading drivers, nutrition being another big factor. According to a USDA bee researcher: “If there’s a top ten list of what’s killing honey bee colonies, I’d put pesticides at number 11″. By creating a “one size fits all” regulation and thus banning pesticides, policymakers could make the mite problem worse which would actually harm honey bee colonies instead of protecting them.

Read more here

What Tommy Boy Teaches Us About Entrepreneurship and the Regulatory State

The go-get-em attitude seen in ‘Tommy Boy’ is just one of the key ingredients to entrepreneurial success.

Regulations attempt to manage and control complex systems according to what has been deemed as appropriate behavior – and therein lies the problem. Complex systems are complex and what is “appropriate” is subjective and tends to be situationally dependent.

For regulatory bodies that are on the outside looking in, data can be misleading and algorithms can be misconstrued, and this was depicted in a recently released policy report by the Consumer Choice Center. Regardless of whether they concern talcum-based baby powder or crop-protecting pesticides, the report explains how blanket bans and one-size fits all approaches overlook the idiosyncrasies present within industries and the long-term implications of imposed restrictions.

Read the full article here

New Report From The Consumer Choice Center: The Folly Of One Size Fits All Regulations

The Consumer Choice Center just published a new report explaining the difference between hazard and risk and examines how a hazard based regulatory approach to four areas of manufacturing will result in fewer choices for consumers, lower quality products, and higher prices. 

Do you know the difference between risk and hazard? You should! And so should lawmakers.

Read the full article 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

David Clement On Big Talker discussing “One Size Fits All” regulations

Our North America Affairs Manager David Clement was a guest on Mornings With Joe Catanacci on the BigTalker 106.7FM discussing our “One Size Fits All” Doesn’t Fit At All campaign.

Check out “One size fits all” Doesn’t fit at all policy note

Three years on, we need to relax cannabis regulation

Moving away from the ‘one size fits all’ approach would help make Canada’s legal cannabis market more consumer-friendly Author of the article:

Three years ago Sunday (October 17, 2018), Canada legalized adult-use recreational cannabis. The Trudeau government deserves credit for making this happen, as most Canadians had for some time believed that the consequences of prohibition outweighed whatever negatives would arise from legalization. That said, the Cannabis Act is now three years old, and it needs to be amended to make the legal cannabis market more consumer- and patient-friendly.

A good first step would be to remove “CBD” products from the Cannabis Act altogether. CBD stands for “cannabidiol,” a chemical found mainly in hemp, which itself is low in THC. On its own, CBD has a variety of medicinal and wellness uses. CBD is used to treat seizures, joint pain and inflammation, and as a sleep aid. Because CBD products are not psychoactive and have a significantly lower risk profile they shouldn’t be regulated the same as cannabis products containing THC. Any CBD product with a THC concentration of less than 0.3 per cent (the U.S. legal standard) should be treated as a natural health product. Moving away from the “one size fits all” approach would help make Canada’s legal cannabis market more consumer-friendly in a number of ways.

First, it would exempt CBD products from the heavy-handed marketing, branding and packaging restrictions set out in the Cannabis Act. Regulating cannabis like tobacco rather than alcohol was a huge mistake, given the differences in risks between the two products. But treating CBD products like tobacco is downright silly.

Beyond chipping away at the paternalism built into the Act, exempting CBD would dramatically increase consumer access. The markets for CBD wellness products and beverages, including sports drinks, likely would expand significantly, especially if these products could be sold outside of licensed cannabis retailers, which in many provinces are in short supply. Even in Ontario, which has opened up retail access, some cities — Oakville is one — have maintained their cannabis retail ban. Under a looser regulatory regime, CBD products would be beyond the reach of nanny-state local councilors.

On the industry side, removing CBD products from the Cannabis Act could help reduce the current glut of over one billion grams of cannabis. Freeing the CBD market from the Act would allow producers with too much cannabis on their hands to simply extract the THC and make CBD products.

Reform of the Act should also address the excise tax system for cannabis. Medical cannabis should be exempt, period. We don’t have extra taxes for other medicines. Why this one? Removing the tax may also have the benefit of encouraging medical patients to purchase legal medical cannabis, rather than be pushed into growing their own with a Health Canada permit, an avenue that has regularly been found to be supplying the illicit market.

For recreational users, the $1/gram excise tax should be replaced with a floating percentage. The minimum excise of $1/gram artificially inflates prices, limits the availability of discount brands, and hurts the craft cannabis industry. More competition on price would obviously benefit consumers, but it would also help chip away at black market sales, which are still running at $750 million a year.

Finally, the act should be amended so that the rules for cannabis marketing and promotion are the same as those for alcohol. A legal cannabis brand should be allowed to sponsor events, advertise more broadly, creatively brand its packages, use spokespeople or endorsements, and provide discounts and other inducements for sales — all of which are allowed for alcohol.

To their credit, some provinces have done what they can to make their legal cannabis market more consumer friendly. Ontario, for example, has made significant progress in expanding retail access, and has just committed to permanently legalizing curbside pickup and delivery for cannabis retail stores. These changes at the provincial level are in large part why legal cannabis sales surpassed illegal sales for the first time in the third quarter of 2020.

The provinces seem to be committed to expanding consumer access. With the Cannabis Act now three years old, it’s time for the federal government to step up, too.

Originally published here

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

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