European ban on cancer-causing PFOS imminent

An EU-wide ban on PFOS, a cancer-causing chemical used in carpets, textiles and other products, may soon be adopted by the European Council after Euro-MPs gave proposals the go-ahead this week.

PFOS – or perfluorooctane sulfonate – is a bio-cumulative chemical that has been linked to bladder cancer and reproductive problems, used in everything from carpets, leather and paper to photographic coatings.

The proposed ban would not be total, outlawing PFOS as a substance in concentrations above 0.005%, in semi-finished products at a level above 0.1% and in textiles or coated materials at 1 microgram/m2.

Commission vice-president Günter Verheugen said: “This measure will lead to improved protection for human health and the environment while safeguarding a small number of uses essential to competitiveness which do not pose unacceptable risk. I commend the negotiators for the high level of cooperation shown in dealing with the PFOS proposal and which has ensured early agreement on this file.”

Exemptions include the use of PFOS as a constituent of anti-reflective coatings for photolithography and hydraulic fluids, among other specialist uses.

Risks associated with these uses are acceptable either because alternatives are either inexistent or of uncertain toxicity – when it is not obvious that alternatives are safer.

PFOS has also been a concern in the recently discussed groundwater protection policy in the UK. It is also the chemical that caused an outcry when it was detected in groundwater around the Bouncefield blast site last May (see related story).

If adopted, the PFOS ban will be eventually incorporated into REACH, the proposed new EU regulation on chemicals.

Goska Romanowicz

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie