Defra Minister Alun Michael today announces the Government’s next steps towards a unilateral ban on use of the environmentally damaging and hazardous chemical Perflurooctane sulphonate (PFOS), and the substances which break down to it.
Defra is proposing national regulations to manage the risks posed by PFOS and phase out its use. It is hoped the proposals, which are published today as part of a 14-week consultation, will inform wider action to ban the chemical across the EU.
The Defra move follows work in the UK and the US which 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.
Alun Michael said today:
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.
“Excellent progress has been made by industry in both phasing out production and in finding substitutes on a voluntary basis, but a limited number of sectors are still to find 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”.
Uses of PFOS have already declined significantly, particularly in the home. The chemical has also been voluntarily withdrawn by the largest global producer, 3M. However 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.
The consultation exercise runs till 25 January 2005. Responses will refine the UK proposals and inform the UK negotiating strategy in Europe.
Alun Michael will launch the consultation on PFOS at the eighteenth meeting of the Chemicals Stakeholder Forum. The CSF meeting will also include discussion of the current position on the UK’s one substance one registration (OSOR) proposal under the new European Chemicals Strategy, REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals). The UK approach aims to ensure that EU proposals achieve the maximum benefit for human health and the environment while keeping both burdens on industry and animal testing to a minimum.
The UK Chemicals Stakeholder Forum, which brings together interested organizations from industry, environmental, consumer, and other fields, provides advice to Ministers on chemicals of concern and its opinions on aspects of the ongoing REACH negotiations. The Forum works with industry to plug the gaps in the information available about the intrinsic properties of chemicals in order to make judgements about any risks they pose and what should be done to control them.
WWF, which is a member of the Forum, today published the results of its blood test survey of environment ministers across Europe. Alun Michael was one of those who volunteered to take part in the survey. Commenting on his results, he said today:
“It is always interesting to be presented with new information about yourself, and I am grateful to colleagues in the Department of Health who have contributed their expertise in helping us all learn something from this exercise.
“The exercise has been partly reassuring and partly informative. It is reassuring to know that there is nothing surprising in the results as the chemicals found are in minute concentrations, and would be expected to be found in trace amounts in blood samples. Furthermore there is no evidence that such trace amounts have adverse effects on health.
“Having said that, I believe that the WWF exercise makes the very important point that action taken now will take time to work through the system and the environment. A number of the chemicals identified in the survey have already been banned and, as is the case today with PFOS, where we know a substance is persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic, we will take action”.