UK stance on PFAS due
UK: Following publication of new European PFAS chemical restriction proposals, the UK government has confirmed the imminent publication of its own analysis into the risks posed by PFAS.
Proposals to broaden the European REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulation published by the European Chemicals Agency last week, seek to ban a number of HFO and HFC refrigerants, many of which are currently seen as key to the F-gas phase down.
Mindful of the EU proposals, the UK’s Health & Safety Executive conducted a call for evidence at the end of 2021 as part of the ongoing regulatory management options analysis (RMOA) on PFAS under UK REACH. According to DEFRA, the UK RMOA will be published “in early 2023”.
The EU REACH Regulation was brought into UK law on 1 January 2021 following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. Known as UK REACH, it currently retains the key principles of the EU REACH Regulation. The EU regulation continues to apply in Northern Ireland under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“Defra and the Environment Agency’s PFAS work is a coordinated programme to develop our approach to managing the risk from PFAS,” DEFRA said. “This initiative will help us assess levels occurring in the environment, their sources and potential risks to inform future policy and regulatory approaches.”
While there is no indication as to the degree to which the UK might follow a European REACH regulation, it is known that the UK has been working under the same definition of PFAS as the European proposals.
Possible changes were mentioned in the UK government’s F-gas assessment report published at the end of last year. Noting that “some HFCs and HFOs are classed as PFAS” the report acknowledged “ongoing discussions relating to the ecological impact of PFAS” and the most “appropriate regulatory framework under which to address use”.
DEFRA accepts that PFAS is persistent in the environment and that any adverse impacts may be difficult to mitigate. “Long-term, some PFAS accumulate in living tissue (bioaccumulate) and can significantly affect human health and wildlife by causing cancer, interfering with hormonal systems (endocrine disruption) and some PFAS are toxic to reproduction. Many of those that are not bio-accumulative are still likely to accumulate in surface and ground waters, including drinking water supplies, where removal is difficult,” it says.
The banning of just five refrigerants – R125, R134a, R143a and the HFOs R1234yf and R1234ze(E) – under Europe’s new PFAS regulation proposals would lead to the banning of virtually all the current lower GWP HFC/HFO alternative refrigerant blends.
As revealed by the Cooling Post this week, excluding the current refrigerant blends already banned in Europe for containing CFCs or HCFCs, only 13 of the remaining 106 current ASHRAE-listed R400 series blends would escape a PFAS ban. Those 13 outside of the scope are predominantly hydrocarbon blends. Of the 500 series blends, only two, both hydrocarbon blends, are outside of the scope.
The EU proposals do, however, accept that technically and economically feasible alternatives will not be available at the date of entry into force and suggests an unlimited exemption for refrigerants in HVACR equipment in buildings, where national safety standards and building codes prohibit the use of alternatives. It also proposes a transition period of 18 months and a 12-year exemption for maintenance and refilling of existing HVACR equipment where drop-in alternatives are not available.
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