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Environment & Energy Report

UN Chemical Regulators Approve PFOA Ban, With Exemptions

May 3, 2019, 7:50 PM

International chemical regulators unanimously approved a global ban on the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a toxic chemical used to manufacture nonstick and stain-resistant coatings in clothing, fast-food wrappers, carpets, and other consumer and industrial products.

Participating governments in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants agreed to list the chemical in Annex A of the treaty during this week’s United Nations Conference of the Parties meeting in Geneva.

“It’s probably the biggest Stockholm listing for ages,” said Charlie Avis, spokesman for the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions in Geneva.

Under Annex A of the Stockholm Convention, governments must take measures to “eliminate the production and use” of PFOA, which is linked to diseases, including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

The majority of the countries that approved the May 3 decision have 12 months to fully implement the ban. Some members of the Stockholm Convention are permitted to have a longer implementation time frame to complete their domestic ratification process.

U.S. Action Pending

U.S. regulators and lawmakers are already weighing new restrictions on PFOA and other per- and polyfluorinated substances, known as PFAS, which were previously manufactured in the U.S. by the 3M Co., and DowDuPont Inc. and its spinoff the Chemours Co.

Though the U.S. isn’t a party to the Stockholm Convention, the EPA announced last month that it will soon issue a proposal to list PFOA and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) on its list of hazardous substances.

3M and DowDuPont also are facing multidistrict class actions from scores of U.S plaintiffs—including towns, water districts, and people with personal-injury claims.

The class of chemicals has been found in about a third of Americans’ drinking water and the Defense Department previously identified more than 400 military installations where groundwater has been contaminated by the use of military firefighting foams that include fluorinated chemicals.

Exemptions Granted

Various international industry groups succeeded in lobbying for exemptions and extended implementation timelines for certain PFOA products including semiconductors, textiles, pharmaceuticals, and firefighting foams.

Some firefighting groups said they were disappointed that governments agreed to grant an exemption for fluorinated firefighting foams, noting there are cost-affordable fluorine-free alternatives available.

“If there’s a global ban with exemptions a mile long, you might as well not have a ban at all,” said Mick Tisbury, a firefighter from Healesville, Australia, who spoke at a press conference in Geneva earlier this week.

“Firefighters, unfortunately, have a pretty high mortality rate,” Tisbury said. “We know we have had repeated exposure to this toxic chemical for over 30 years. Right now we feel like we have a ticking time bomb in our bodies.”

To contact the reporter: Bryce Baschuk in Geneva at correspondents@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Jean Fogarty at jfogarty@bloombergenvironment.com