On April 4, 2023, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published a regulatory management options analysis (RMOA) for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The RMOA is a preliminary step used within the UK Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) framework. The RMOA collates, combines, and analyzes information on the nature and extent of exposure to chemical substances, and it considers existing laws and also how PFAS are being managed around the world, including Europe, Asia, and the United States. The RMOA defines PFAS as “[f]luorinated substances that contain at least one fully fluorinated methyl carbon atom (without any hydrogen, chlorine, bromine or iodine atom attached to it), or two or more contiguous perfluorinated methylene groups (–CF2–).” The RMOA states that this “reduces the number of PFAS in scope to hundreds, maintaining focus on substances that are persistent degradation products of PFAS.” The RMOA acknowledges that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines PFAS more broadly as “fluorinated substances that contain at least one fully fluorinated methyl or methylene carbon atom (without any hydrogen, chlorine, bromine or iodine atom attached to it).” As reported in our February 13, 2023, memorandum, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is accepting comments on a proposal to restrict more than 10,000 PFAS under REACH. The chemical scope of the restriction proposal is defined as “[a]ny substance that contains at least one fully fluorinated methyl (CF3-) or methylene (-CF2-) carbon atom (without any H/Cl/Br/I attached to it),” and this definition is aligned with OECD’s.
The RMOA states that based on initial considerations of likely effectiveness and efficiency of options — and considering the Precautionary Principle — HSE concludes that it would be appropriate to consider initiating some or all of the following risk management measures with regard to certain uses of PFAS:
- Preparation of background dossiers to support potentially one or more UK REACH restrictions of PFAS, including:
- The use and disposal of fire-fighting foams (FFF) where non-PFAS alternatives are available;
- Other wide dispersive uses such as the application of coatings or use of cleaning agents; and
- The manufacture and placing on the market of consumer articles from which PFAS are likely to be released into air, water, or soil, or directly transferred to humans. This includes textiles, upholstery, leather, apparel, rugs and carpets, paints, varnishes, waxes and polishes, and cleaning products. Consideration may be given to other consumer articles if other gaps are identified in consultation with other legislative regimes such as food contact materials;
- UK REACH authorization of PFAS used in processing aids in the manufacture and processing of fluorinated polymers;
- Further evaluation and investigation of substances that have been highlighted to be of concern; and
- Continued collaborative work across government and with external stakeholders to bring together work on PFAS strategically.
According to its April 4, 2023, press release, the recommendation to prioritize FFFs for action will be founded on scoping work with stakeholders including industry, firefighters, and those with expert knowledge of alternative foams. The press release states that similar exercises will take place for other commercial uses of PFAS. HSE will work with the Environment Agency and the appropriate authorities (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Scotland, and Wales) to consider the recommendations and how action on these recommendations will be set out in the forthcoming UK REACH Work Programme for 2023-24.