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New PFAS Control Strategy in UN Call to Ban Chemical Group
PAT RIZZUTO, Reporter
A United Nations committee’s recent recommendation to ban an entire group of persistent fluorochemicals will better protect communities, consumers, and workers, according to an international environmental organization.
The Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee recommended last week that perfluorohexane sulfonic acid, or PFHxS, and 147 related chemicals be added to the U.N.'s Stockholm Convention. The committee advises the 183 countries and regions that have ratified that global treaty, which controls chemicals that are toxic, build up in the food chain, persist in the environment, and travel far from where they’re made or used.
To date, the Stockholm Convention has dealt with chemicals one by one, said Sara Brosché, science adviser to the International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN).
Yet, “evidence is accumulating that all of these fluorinated chemicals have similar hazardous properties and using them puts human health and the environment at risk,” she said. “All countries should take steps to address them as a class and support a global ban of all PFAS.
PFAS is the acronym for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a very large group of fluorochemicals that includes PFHxS, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOS and PFOA are already banned under the Stockholm Convention.
Banning PFHxS and its 147 related chemicals would add an important group of fluorochemicals to the convention, but leave unaddressed many of the estimated nearly 5,000 PFAS.
“The members of the FluoroCouncil fully support the actions recommended by the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee relative to PFHxS. Our membership neither manufactures or uses PFHxS,” said Rob Simon, a vice president with the American Chemistry Council.
That council manages the FluoroCouncil, which represents companies including the Chemours Co., Daikin Industries, Ltd., Solvay Specialty Polymers, and Tyco Fire Products LP.
LONGEST HALF-LIFE IN PEOPLE
PFHxS and its related compounds are used to manufacture electronics and semiconductors; coat textiles, leather, and upholstery; and make a specialized type of firefighting foam used for jet fuel and other challenging fires, according to an analysis  of the chemical that the committee reviewed.
Manufacturers have used PFHxS to substitute for PFOS, according to those documents, and alternative chemicals are available for PFHxS.
It’s important to reduce exposure to all PFHxS chemicals because they can harm the nervous system, brain development, and hormone function, according to the documents.
PFHxS “has the longest half-life in human serum ever reported for any PFAS,” meaning it remains in people’s bodies, often circulating in blood for many years, the committee’s review said.
PARTIES TO DISCUSS IN 2021
The U.N. committee urged the countries belonging to the Stockholm Convention to ban PFHxS and its related chemicals with no exemptions.
The 183 parties to the Stockholm Convention will discuss the recommended ban at their next meeting in April and May 2021 in Nairobi, said Charlie Avis, a spokesman for the convention.
Banning the PFHxS chemicals would protect communities, consumers, and firefighters even in countries and regions—such as the U.S. and European Union—that already have stopped producing them, Brosché said.
Fewer products made with PFHxS would be imported, and the amount of the chemicals circulating in the air and water would decrease, she said. PFHxS could be exported solely for environmentally sound disposal, Brosché said.
“This is really important since it safeguards countries with weak chemicals regulations and limitations in enforcement,” and prevents people from dumping stocks of PFHxS on countries unable to deal with them, she said.
(Updated with comment from the FluoroCouncil)
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