Chemical Processing Notebook is a new column and associated podcast presenting talking points from various industry experts on a wide range of topics. This first CP Notebook column focuses on the impact PFAS regulations are having on the supply chain, from the upstream chemical producers to the downstream manufacturers using per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in their products.
“Forever chemicals” seem to be everywhere, even in those paper straws you thought were saving the planet. Yes, scientists in Belgium found that PFAS was more detectable in straws made from plant-based materials than plastic straws, according to the study published in the Food Additives and Contaminants journal.
The report underscores the widespread lack of awareness regarding the existence of PFAS in everyday products. For manufacturers, the seemingly ubiquitous presence of PFAS poses significant supply chain challenges. Chemical Processing recently discussed the far-reaching impact of PFAS regulations with several industry experts.
We know about nonstick pans and waterproof gear, but what other products are impacted by PFAS legislation?
3M is among several PFAS producers impacted by new laws and litigation. The company is exiting nearly 21,000 product lines that contain PFAS (a full list of the products is available here), says regulatory expert Bruce Jarnot, who works for supply chain software provider Assent.
PFAS is a class of chemicals that also includes polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE. This substance is present in a wide range of end products, from semiconductors to lab equipment. PFAS polymers are also found in membranes, including those used in water purification, fuel cells, batteries and ultra-purification, says Richard Engler, director of chemistry for the Bergeson & Campbell law firm. PFAS is also found in process equipment parts, including gaskets and O-rings.
So how does this impact chemical companies?
Beyond the direct impact to PFAS manufacturers like 3M, DuPont and Chemours, process plants need to think about how to source their equipment parts. Jarnot encourages chemical plants to evaluate seals and other parts that may contain PFAS and consider alternate suppliers. As he says: “If it's being manufactured by 3M (for example), you're not only going to need to find an alternate manufacturer, but consider these fluoroelastomers akin to pasta in the sense that 3M’s hardness and deformability may be different than an alternate vendor. So, you find an alternate vendor, but then you may have to qualify those parts, those gaskets and seals and hoses in terms of performance. It might be just a different torque specification or might be different physical size that you need as a seal or as a gasket in your piece of capital equipment.”
How do the PFAS bans and review processes impact the chemical supply chain?
Banning PFAS substances comes with costly logistical challenges, says Lynn Kornfeld, a partner at Holland & Hart LLP. Manufacturers must understand and track components, often requiring testing or supplier cooperation, says Kornfeld, who works in the firm’s Denver office. Suppliers could number in the hundreds or thousands, some overseas, potentially hindering PFAS compliance. This might push manufacturers to find limited alternative suppliers for affected products.
What can chemical manufacturers do to prepare for the anticipated rules?
First, ask the engineers. They should know where PFAS exists within the facility, says Jarnot. “Talk to those individuals and say, ‘where do we specify in our products where we know already – we have institutional knowledge where these materials are?’ Jarnot says. Also speak with an environmental health and safety or facility manager and inquire about operations that use PFAS. If the facility uses materials that have a higher likelihood of containing PFAS, such as coatings or electronics, Jarnot also suggests manufacturers engage with their suppliers and ask them questions about what they’re purchasing.
You can listen to the full interview with Bruce Jarnot on Aug. 28, 2023, by visiting the “Chemical Processing Notebook” podcast by clicking the play button at the top of the page or by visiting https://www.chemicalprocessing.com/podcast/distilled.