March 3, 2022

ECHA Proposes Ban on PFAS in Firefighting Foams

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has proposed to ban the use of all per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in firefighting foams. PFAS, commonly referred to as “forever chemicals” for their persistence in the environment, function as a surfactant within firefighting foams, forming a film over burning liquids to prevent the release of flammable gases. PFAS exposure in humans has been associated with cancer and immune system effects.

The proposal would prohibit the sale, use, and export of all PFAS in firefighting foams following sector-specific transition periods intended to allow the substitution of other products for the PFAS-containing foams. These alternative products could include fluorine-free foams, some of which are currently in use. Fluorine-free foams were the subject of a June 2020 report (PDF), commissioned by ECHA, which analyzed alternatives to PFAS-containing foams and identified possible regulatory options.

Two ECHA committees are now assessing the agency’s proposed ban and are expected to issue a recommendation sometime in 2023. The European Commission will then consider the committees’ opinion and issue a decision on whether to implement the proposed ban or to pursue less restrictive measures.

According to an ECHA news release, over a 30-year period the proposed ban would reduce emissions of PFAS by more than 13,000 metric tons while imposing costs of approximately €7 billion. The estimated costs would cover equipment modifications for the use of PFAS-free foams, the cleaning of equipment to remove PFAS foam residues, and the price difference between PFAS-containing foams and PFAS-free options. On March 23 a six-month consultation period is scheduled to begin, during which ECHA will accept comments on its proposal. An online information session is planned for April 5.

Five European Union member states are working on a separate proposal that will target other uses of PFAS. That proposal is expected to be submitted in January 2023.

For more information, read ECHA’s proposal (PDF).

Related: The article “Chasing a Changing Chemical Market” in the March Synergist discusses the challenges PFAS present to OEHS professionals and researchers who are seeking to develop appropriate worker protection programs.