The Troubling Legacy of PFAS and Forever Chemicals

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What are PFASs?

Also known as ‘Forever Chemicals’ PFASs have been used extensively in the production of products that span the car industry to kitchenware, cosmetics to packaging. Their chemical make-up means they are highly resistant to extreme temperatures, pressure and corrosion, and their ability to repel oil, dirt and water makes them an appealing component across countless industries. Quite simply PFSAs are now found everywhere. But their longevity, once hailed as their USP, is now cause for extreme environmental and human concern.

Environmental Impact and Proposed Restrictions

The durability of Forever Chemicals means that they break down exceptionally slowly, remaining in the environment for decades if not centuries. As a result, the EU has now proposed a restriction of use, which if passed, could become one of the most extensive pieces of legislation impacting the chemical industry to ever be passed. The EU ban proposal initially focuses on the use of 10,000 variants of PFAS, but there is now a consultation gathering pace that focuses on the ban on production to export the chemical, which could also impact customers in higher tiers of the supply chain such as UK consumers.

The USA is already ahead of some of the world’s other larger economies, having instigated policies to drive down the presence of PFAS in drinking water, demonstrating a global drive to restrict PFAS usage in the future.

UK Impact

Forming part of the UK REACH programme, the UK Government continue to undertake periodic reviews of harmful substances, of which PFAS is a key focus. This is further amplified by the recent EU ban discussions and what feels like an inevitable chain of events that will likely lead to similar restrictions within the UK. As the UK’s supply chain spans the globe, naturally, restrictions enacted in the EU and other areas of the world will have ramifications for the UK, driven by the sub-tier impact.

Impact on Procurement and Supply Chain

Due to the proliferation of use of PFAS’s across so many industries, the restriction of its use is going to affect most supply chain professionals to a greater or lesser degree. So what should the focus be for supply chain professionals looking to mitigate the risk?

  • Identification of exposure across our supply chains. Supply chain partners are likely to have better visibility of their lower tiers and greater control over their specifications/designs so it’s worth working closely with these partners.
  • Seek an R&D budget for viable alternatives. Sourcing an alternative to PFASs is likely to be time consuming and difficult, so it’s sensible to set budget aside for this and to start working on viable alternatives now.
  • Collaboration for change. Working closely with engineering or technical teams to design solutions that do not use PFAS will be more efficient than trying to remove the chemicals mid-use.
  • Stay current with UK government policy. Whilst we are no longer members of the EU, it is likely that the UK will follow a similar path to the EU. At the very least, EU restrictions will have a bearing on the global supply chain.
  • Understand the spread of PFAS amongst critical products that are procured, provided or used by the business. Only then can the associated impact to business operations be truly understood, should an EU or UK ban come into effect.

Conclusion

It is highly likely that PFASs will be restricted, though the degree to which that will occur is still unclear. Certainly from an environmental perspective there is no argument that a restriction on PFAS is critical to the wellbeing of the planet and that action is required. Indeed, it is widely agreed that no action on PFAS would lead to greater societal cost than the costs associated with a restriction.

Procurement professionals have an opportunity to feed into the consultation and have a ‘voice at the table’. Empowered by an awareness of the need for change, procurement professionals can work collaboratively with other departments, such as design and engineering, to ‘design PFAS out’ of the products they are producing, restrict consumption of goods coming into the business and strategically manage the inevitable risk to the business of legislative change.

Tom Baker B&W (1)

Tom Baker

Senior Managing Consultant

Tom is an experienced Category Manager and Capital Contract Specialist with a demonstrable history of working across both public and private sector organisations including Nuclear, Utilities and Government organisations. Skilled in strategic category and operational procurement, value delivery, commercial management and dispute resolution.

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Author: Tom Baker