Fluorochemicals ban: jackets and pans in sight

The federal and state environment ministers want to push through a faster ban on certain carcinogenic environmental toxins.

Many items of clothing only become waterproof with a lot of chemistry. And the side effects? Photo: dpa

BERLIN taz / epd | The federal and state environment ministers are urging decisive action to curb the controversial PFC substances, especially in consumer products. These so-called perfluorinated and polyfluorinated chemicals are hardly degraded by nature and are demonstrably harmful to the environment and health, according to the resolution of the ministerial conference that was unanimously adopted in Wiesbaden on Friday. The application was submitted by the federal states of Hesse, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein.

So far, PFCs have been used in fire-fighting foam, for example, but also increasingly in consumer products such as coated pans, rain jackets or wax for impregnating skis due to their water, grease and dirt-repellent properties. At high levels in the blood, PFCs can cause cancer in humans, weaken the immune system, and cause reproductive problems.

The conference chairwoman and Hessian head of department Priska Hinz (Greens) said, the substances caused severe pollution of the soil and water. “PFCs are environmental toxins for eternity,” said Hinz. “We have therefore called for a restriction at European level.” The German government must achieve a restriction as soon as possible during its presidency in the European Union and then a ban.

The Hessian Ministry of the Environment justified the initiative with the fear that these chemical compounds could not be safely broken down, destroyed or separated even during disposal.

EU chemicals strategy targets PFC

The Federation for Environment and Nature Conservation welcomed the initiative of the Hessian Environment Minister to ban PFCs. It is overdue to ban the use of these fluorocarbon compounds. “We very much welcome the fact that the environment ministers of the federal states have spoken out in favor of measures against the further use and spread of fluorochemicals,” said Ulrike Kallee, Head of the Substances and Technologies Department at the environmental organization. The federal and state governments should now act immediately to prevent these pollutants from spreading further into the environment. “At the same time, the federal government must work for a quick ban on this highly problematic group of chemicals at EU level,” said Kallee.

At the EU level, chemicals policy is known to grind thoroughly, but very slowly. In the chemicals strategy adopted by the EU Commission in mid-October, the PFCs received special attention especially those substances that can influence the endocrine system. Because the chemicals are widespread and very harmful, the Commission decided that the production and use of PFCs in the EU should be phased out – unless they prove essential to society. However, the strategy is not yet something that is directly implemented in law, it is only a declaration of intent.

A study by the Federal Environment Agency (Uba) from the summer shows how widespread PFC is in Germany. The representative German environmental study on the health of children and adolescents, GerES V, comes to the conclusion that in Germany children and adolescents between 3 and 17 years of age have too many long-lasting chemicals from the group of perfluorinated and polyfluorinated substances in their blood. “In one fifth of the samples examined, the concentration for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) was above the HBM-I value set by the Human Biomonitoring Commission,” said the Uba. According to the current state of knowledge, a health impairment can only be ruled out if this HBM-I value is not reached. (epd / hol)

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