The German, Danish, Dutch, Norwegian and Swedish health authorities submitted this project to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in mid-January, supported by other countries, including France, which recently presented its own stock".

The proposal, which targets 14 sectors of activity, aims to ban the production, use, import and placing on the market of some 10,000 perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) and polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFAS) in the EU and in the 'European Economic Area.

"This grouped approach is more effective" than targeting individual compounds, it "prevents banned PFAS from being replaced by other PFAS", observed Frauke Averbeck, from the German health authority (BAuA).

These synthetic chemical compounds have been developed since the 1940s to resist water and heat: endowed with non-stick and waterproof properties, they are used in industry and present in everyday objects: products in Teflon, food packaging, textiles, automobiles...

Almost indestructible, PFAS (a family of more than 4,700 molecules) accumulate over time in the air, soil, river water, food and even the human body, hence their nickname of pollutants. "eternal".

The five countries said their proposal "would be one of the largest chemical bans ever imposed in Europe (...). It would reduce the amounts of PFAS in the environment in the long term and make products and processes ( industrial) safer for humans," in a joint statement.

-Transition period-

Between 140,000 and 310,000 tonnes of PFAS were introduced in 2020 on the European market.

If no restrictions are adopted, the initiators of the project estimate that at least 4.4 million tonnes of PFAS will escape into the environment over the next 30 years in the EU.

"Eternal chemicals" © Jonathan WALTER / AFP

Weakening of the immune system, cancers, diabetes, obesity: the annual cost of exposure to PFAS for European public health is estimated between 52 and 84 billion euros.

In practice, the proposal describes two scenarios towards prohibition.

The first would give companies 18 months to phase out PFAS.

The second provides for a variable transition period depending on the uses and the availability of alternative substances, generally one and a half years (for cosmetics, food packaging, etc.) but up to 12 years (for medical devices , For example).

"In many cases there is not yet an alternative, and in some cases there may never be," the five countries acknowledge.

Unlimited derogations are envisaged for certain sectors subject to specific regulations (plant protection products, biocides, drugs).


ECHA will start consultations on this proposal.

Its scientific commissions will assess its environmental, but also economic and social impact.

The agency will then send a recommendation to the European Commission, which will draw up regulations ultimately subject to the approval of the 27 EU Member States.

The latter could decide during 2025 for a possible implementation after 2026.

A supermarket in Bordeaux, in the south-west of France, on December 2, 2022 © Philippe LOPEZ / AFP/Archives

The European Consumers' Organization (BEUC) called on the EU "to move forward as quickly as possible without lowering the level of ambition" of the text.

The environmental NGO Générations Futures welcomed a "historic" proposal but "which must be strengthened", worrying in particular about the exemptions envisaged.

For its part, the organization of PFAS producers (the FPP4EU) estimates that it will be difficult to do without these substances, boasting of their numerous properties (resistance, lubrication, durability, etc.) and their central role in the production chains. supply to sectors such as pharmaceuticals or automotive.

But the chemical industry is already preparing.

Pinned for the polluting emissions of its factories in Belgium and the United States, the American conglomerate 3M announced at the end of December that it would stop the production of PFAS by the end of 2025 and would stop integrating them into its products.

© 2023 AFP