EU ministers are collaborating with the European Parliament to secure early restrictions on perfluorooctane sulfonates

Arthur Rogers/Strasbourg, France

European Union ministers are collaborating with the European Parliament to secure early restrictions on perfluorooctane sulfonates (PFOS), chlorinated compounds used in applications including surface coatings, photolithography, production of microchips, and certain hydraulic fluids.

Commercially available in the form of salts, derivatives and polymers, PFOS-related substances have been used particularly to provide grease, oil and water resistance to textiles, carpets and paper, though industry is already turning to safer substitutes. Voting here on 25 October, MEPs agreed by 632 votes to 10 that EU-wide restrictions on PFOS should be imposed by mid-2008. 

Informal negotiations between ministers and the Parliament’s Environment Committee produced a mutually acceptable version of a European Commission proposal published in December 2005. The two sides have agreed to fast-track the legislation - and to impose even tougher restrictions. 

While the Commission proposed setting a limit of 0.1 per cent by mass of PFOS in substances and preparations, MEPs and ministers have reduced the limit to 0.005 per cent. Stocks of fire-fighting foam containing PFOS are seen as a potential threat to the environment - as seen at the UK’s Buncefield fuel depot fire in 2005, when foam contaminated local watercourses. 

A Commission suggestion that such foams should be exempted was rejected. Instead, the legislation will allow 54 months’ continued use of PFOS foam supplied in the 12 months before the legislation enters into force. 

PFOS will be allowed in aviation hydraulic fluids and in minor industrial applications, though the Commission is mandated to propose further restrictions as safer alternatives become available. 

However, MEPs have dropped demands for EU restrictions on perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA) which they fear may also present significant risks. 

Instead, the Commission has been asked to monitor ongoing PFOA studies such as those being carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). 

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