UK Moves to Ban Perflurooctane Sulphonate

The UK government is inching closer to a unilateral ban on the use of perflurooctane sulphonate (PFOS) and the substances which break down to it.

Minister Alun Michael of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said his department is proposing national regulations to manage the risks posed by PFOS and phase out its use. It is hoped the proposals, which were published Oct. 19 as part of a 14-week comment period, will spawn wider action to ban the chemical across the European Union.

The move by DEFRA follows work in the United Kingdom and the United States that concluded that the presence and persistence of PFOS in the environment, together with its toxicity and its potential for accumulating within the body, make it a priority for action. Although use of the chemical is diminishing, it continues to be used in a number of industrial processes including chrome plating, fire fighting foams, the photographic industry, semi-conductors and hydraulic fluids in aviation. These industries are being pressed to find safer alternatives.

"PFOS clearly meets the criteria for a chemical of high concern and presents a real and significant risk to the health of the population and the environment in the UK. I am concerned that a substance with these intrinsic properties is still being used," said Michael.

He noted that "excellent" progress has been made by industry in both phasing out production and in finding substitutes on a voluntary basis, but he pointed out that a limited number of industry sectors have yet to substitute products or technologies.

"I announced in June that the government is committed to taking national action to phase out the use of PFOS and substances that break down to it, and I am very pleased today to present proposals that take us nearer that goal. In achieving it we will carefully consider the impact on business to ensure that the solution is cost effective and proportionate."

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