Health: “Eternal chemicals” are to be restricted in the EU

Health: “Eternal chemicals” are to be restricted in the EU

“Eternal chemicals” are to be restricted in the EU

In March, the EU Chemicals Agency (ECHA) wants to check whether bans are compatible with EU law Photo: Monika Skolimowska/dpa

In March, the EU Chemicals Agency (ECHA) wants to check whether bans are compatible with EU law Photo

© Monika Skolimowska/dpa

Called the “eternal chemicals”: PFAS are found almost everywhere. They can be hazardous to the environment and health. Germany and four other EU countries now want to take action against it.

They repel dirt and water: The so-called PFAS chemicals are therefore used in products such as coated pans and jackets. However, they can be harmful to health and the environment. Now Germany wants to EU together with Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, ban about 10,000 of these “eternal chemicals”.

Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens) announced that the environmental pollution caused by this particularly problematic chemicals wanting to put a stop to it. Authorities estimate that if nothing is done about it, around 4.4 million tons of PFAS will end up in the environment over the next 30 years.

Chemicals can cause damage in the body over time

“Due to their chemical composition, PFAS build up in the Environment over very long periods of time,” said Lemke. Although this is often useful in practice, it also means that these chemicals can cause damage in nature and in the human body in the long term. This also applies to cancer.

An investigation by the Federal Environment Agency last year found excessive amounts of PFAS in the blood of children and young people. In up to a quarter of the young people, the concentration in the body was so high that “health effects can no longer be ruled out with sufficient certainty,” it said.

First an examination, then an investigation, then a ban if necessary

In March, the EU Chemicals Agency (ECHA) wants to examine whether bans are compatible with EU law. If so, the proposal will be scientifically examined. This usually takes about a year. Then the EU Commission and the EU states decide on possible restrictions. This could happen in 2025.

According to ECHA, this would be one of the largest chemical bans in Europe. Companies would be forced to find alternatives. According to the proposal, they should be given between one and a half and twelve years. However, the proposed restriction covers only part of the substances. There is still no substitute for the chemicals in fire protection clothing or fire extinguishing foam, according to the Ministry of the Environment.

The Association for the Environment and Nature Conservation Germany (BUND) welcomed the proposal. “It is very welcome that the proposal is finally on the table,” said a spokesman. It was overdue and will now be read with the necessary skepticism. On the other hand, criticism came from the Association of the Chemical Industry. The association announced that the substances and uses should be considered and evaluated separately. “A blanket ban on the entire PFAS group of substances without a differentiated substance and application-specific assessment is therefore inappropriate in our view.” In addition to the effects on people and the environment, the positive effects and economic efficiency must also be considered for an assessment.


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