The PFAS “eternal chemicals” are a group of more than 4,700 artificially synthesized substances that practically do not break down under natural conditions. The best known of these is polytetrafluoroethylene or… Teflon. Very poisonous, they have been found in 1500 places in Germany so far. The EU is considering a far-reaching ban.
The “eternal chemicals” stick to pizza boxes, are found in cosmetics, fish and game meat are contaminated with them, and outdoor clothing is covered. Ubiquitous, potentially toxic and not yet fully understood – here is a very brief description of the so-called timeless PFAS chemicals. Widely used in industry, they are currently the subject of intense debate, with more than 10,000 of them subject to a future ban under the EU proposal.
These unnatural and extremely persistent chemicals can accumulate in the environment. Many places in Germany contaminated with PFAS are still unknown, according to the Federal Environment Agency (Uba).
“Tip of the Iceberg”
“What we see is probably just the tip of the iceberg,” Uba chairman Dirk Messner said in a response to the Süddeutsche Zeitung. According to a study published in SZ, NDR and WDR, timeless PFAS chemicals can be found in over 1500 locations in Germany. Messner also said “an important contribution to the further compilation of the mosaic”.
Some substances enter rivers, lakes and oceans through sewage treatment plants, as well as from other sources. Last year, a study was conducted showing that “timeless chemicals” can be found in rainwater even in the most remote areas of the world. “By accumulating in plants and fish, they later enter the human body,” says Uba. Additionally, humans can also absorb PFAS through air and drinking water.
PFAS – “medium and high toxicity”
Due to their special properties – the substances, among other things, are very stable and oil and water repellent, they are widely used. “Eternal chemicals” are found in everyday objects such as anoraks, cookware and cosmetics, and are also part of industrial and technological processes.
“Of the relatively few PFASs that have been well studied, most are considered to have moderate to high toxicity, particularly to child development,” writes the European Environment Agency (EEA).
The authorities of several countries, including Germany, are calling for an almost total ban on this group of substances in the EU. This is a kind of precautionary measure, because if some of them are obviously harmful, then many other members of this group obviously do not have “useful properties”.
According to the Federation of German Industry (BDI), a complete ban on PFAS would be detrimental to the industry. “I anticipate the implications of limiting the use of ‘eternal chemicals’ will be significant for many industries,” Mirjam Merz, an expert in chemical policy and hazardous substances law at BDI, told dpa.
If the request from the authorities goes through all the formalities, then public consultations will begin on March 22, during which representatives of industry, for example, will be able to plead the need for exceptions. Ultimately, the decision will be made by the European Commission, together with EU member states. This should happen in 2025.
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