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Habeck advocates “a sense of proportion” when regulating PFAS chemicals

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Habeck advocates “a sense of proportion” when regulating PFAS chemicals

Economy EU ban plans

Habeck warns against over-regulation of chemicals

Status: 03.08.2023 | Reading time: 3 minutes

A “differentiated regulatory framework” is needed, says Habeck

Quelle: dpa/Marijan Murat

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A huge group of chemicals could soon be banned in the EU. Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck is now warning of “over-regulation”. The industry emphasizes that key technologies on the way to climate neutrality could not be produced without PFAS chemicals.

Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) has spoken out in favor of a differentiated approach to the PFAS chemical group. “Better regulation where it is necessary for consumer protection, but no over-regulation for the economy where it inhibits growth and technological development,” Habeck told the dpa news agency.

“Specifically, this means that where these chemicals are not used safely for people and the environment and can easily be replaced by other substances, we should promote their rapid phase-out. This is especially true where they are used close to the consumer,” Habeck continued. A possible ban on this group of chemicals is currently being discussed in the EU.

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At the same time, however, the renewal of industry must not be jeopardized, Habeck warned. PFAS played a central role in future technologies such as semiconductors, electrolyzers and electric drives. “Here, PFAS cannot simply be replaced and here we must not prevent the development of technologies through over-regulation, especially since they are used in closed systems in production.” Therefore, “a differentiated regulatory framework with exceptions for important technologies of the future” is needed”.

PFAS stands for per- and polyfluorinated alkyl compounds, they are artificially produced and also known as forever chemicals because they accumulate in the environment and are only broken down very slowly.

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The chemical group includes an estimated 10,000 individual substances that are processed in everyday products such as anoraks, pans or cosmetics. In industry, they are used, for example, in seals, insulation or cables. Lithium-ion batteries, for example for e-cars or hydrogen technologies, are also dependent on PFAS.

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Large German industry associations therefore also warn that a comprehensive ban could jeopardize the EU climate targets. No windmill, no e-car, no energy storage, no semiconductors – without PFAS chemicals it would not be possible to produce key technology on the way to climate neutrality, according to a statement from the automotive industry (VDA), mechanical engineering (VDMA) and the electrical and digital industries ( ZVEI).

Warning of “climate protection boomerang”

The president of the automotive association VDA, Hildegard Müller, emphasized that a blanket PFAS ban threatens to become a “climate protection boomerang”. Without the chemicals, neither the existing vehicles nor future vehicle technologies are conceivable today. According to Mechanical Engineering President Karl Haeusgen, “many green technologies, from wind turbines to hydrogen production and the production of fuel cells” would be at risk.

The three industry associations demand that substances for which there is currently no substitute should continue to be available to industry. This should also apply to substances that pose no risk to humans or the environment. Risky PFAS should be continuously replaced, as is already common practice. The substances must be considered in a differentiated and risk-based manner, said ZVEI President Gunther Kegel.

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A possible ban on the group of chemicals is being discussed in the EU. Germany and other countries had proposed an almost complete ban on the manufacture, use and marketing of PFAS. Depending on the application, transition periods of up to thirteen and a half years are planned. There would be unlimited exceptions for a few areas. Because of the enormous variety of compounds, most of the substances have not yet been investigated. So it’s a kind of precautionary measure. According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), most of the well-studied substances are considered to be moderately to highly toxic.

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New EU battery regulation

The EU chemicals agency ECHA wants to assess a possible ban after a six-month public consultation that ends on September 25. The decision is ultimately made by the European Commission together with the EU member states.

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