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UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR
Out of hours: 020 7270 8960

19 October 2004


Defra Minister Alun Michael today announces the Government's next steps towards a unilateral ban on use of the environmentally damaging and hazardous chemical Perflurooctane sulphonate (PFOS), and the substances which break down to it.

Defra is proposing national regulations to manage the risks posed by PFOS and phase out its use. It is hoped the proposals, which are published today as part of a 14-week consultation, will inform wider action to ban the chemical across the EU.

The Defra move follows work in the UK and the US which concluded that the presence and persistence of PFOS in the environment, together with its toxicity and its potential for accumulating within the body, make it a priority for action.

Alun Michael said today:

'PFOS clearly meets the criteria for a chemical of high concern and presents a real and significant risk to the health of the population and the environment in the UK. I am concerned that a substance with these intrinsic properties is still being used.

"Excellent progress has been made by industry in both phasing out production and in finding substitutes on a voluntary basis, but a limited number of sectors are still to find substitute products or technologies.

"I announced in June that the Government is committed to taking national action to phase out the use of PFOS and substances that break down to it, and I am very pleased today to present proposals that take us nearer that goal. In achieving it we will carefully consider the impact on business to ensure that the solution is cost effective and proportionate".

Uses of PFOS have already declined significantly, particularly in the home. The chemical has also been voluntarily withdrawn by the largest global producer, 3M. However it continues to be used in a number of industrial processes including chrome plating, fire fighting foams, the photographic industry, semi-conductors, and hydraulic fluids in aviation. These industries are being pressed to find safer alternatives.

The consultation exercise runs till 25 January 2005. Responses will refine the UK proposals and inform the UK negotiating strategy in Europe.

Alun Michael will launch the consultation on PFOS at the eighteenth meeting of the Chemicals Stakeholder Forum. The CSF meeting will also include discussion of the current position on the UK's one substance one registration (OSOR) proposal under the new European Chemicals Strategy, REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals). The UK approach aims to ensure that EU proposals achieve the maximum benefit for human health and the environment while keeping both burdens on industry and animal testing to a minimum.

The UK Chemicals Stakeholder Forum, which brings together interested organisations from industry, environmental, consumer, and other fields, provides advice to Ministers on chemicals of concern and its opinions on aspects of the ongoing REACH negotiations. The Forum works with industry to plug the gaps in the information available about the intrinsic properties of chemicals in order to make judgements about any risks they pose and what should be done to control them.

WWF, which is a member of the Forum, today published the results of its blood test survey of environment ministers across Europe. Alun Michael was one of those who volunteered to take part in the survey. Commenting on his results, he said today:

"It is always interesting to be presented with new information about yourself, and I am grateful to colleagues in the Department of Health who have contributed their expertise in helping us all learn something from this exercise.

"The exercise has been partly reassuring and partly informative. It is reassuring to know that there is nothing surprising in the results as the chemicals found are in minute concentrations, and would be expected to be found in trace amounts in blood samples. Furthermore there is no evidence that such trace amounts have adverse effects on health.

"Having said that, I believe that the WWF exercise makes the very important point that action taken now will take time to work through the system and the environment. A number of the chemicals identified in the survey have already been banned and, as is the case today with PFOS, where we know a substance is persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic, we will take action".

Notes for editors

Defra is encouraging respondents to access the consultation, and to submit responses, electronically wherever possible. This will reduce the volume of paper needed, and offer a quick convenient process for submitting views and analysing responses. The consultation is published online at www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/pfos/index.htm. Defra is also making the document available and receiving feedback through traditional channels.

2. The proposals published today have been drawn up after full consultation with the Environment Agency, other government departments, and the devolved administrations. National action on PFOS was foreshadowed by Alun Michael at the UK Chemical Stakeholder Forum's sixteenth meeting on 22 June 2004.

3. The proposed regulations cover England and Scotland. Wales and Northern Ireland have indicated that they would put in place equivalent legislation and have agreed to a UK wide consultation.

4. Perfluorooctane sulphonate (PFOS) is a fully fluorinated anion, the related compounds of which are members of the large family of perfluoroalkyl sulphonate substances (PFAS). The majority of PFOS related substances are polymers of high molecular weight in which PFOS is only a fraction of the polymer molecular weight. The term 'PFOS related substances' is used in this consultation to represent any substance that can degrade to PFOS in the environment.

5. In May 2000, 3M (a major global producer of PFOS, based in the United States) announced that the company would phase-out the use of PFOS voluntarily from 2001 onwards. Shortly after this announcement, several Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries agreed to informally work together to collect information on the physico-chemical and toxic properties of PFOS for the purpose of conducting a hazard assessment. The UK and US agreed to take the lead. This hazard assessment concluded that the presence and persistence of PFOS in the environment, combined with its toxicity and bioaccumulation potential indicated a cause for concern to the environment and human health. This assessment can be obtained from www.oecd.org/dataoecd/23/18/2382880.pdf

6. With regard to human health, the OECD hazard assessment concluded that:
* PFOS is persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) in mammals;
* PFOS has been detected in the blood serum of occupational and general populations;
* there is a statistically significant association between exposure to PFOS and bladder cancer; and
* there appears to be an increased risk of episodes of neoplasms of the male reproductive system, the overall category of cancers and benign growths, and neoplasms of the gastrointestinal tract.

7. With regard to environmental effects, the OECD Hazard Assessment indicates that:
* PFOS is persistent and bioaccumulative;
* PFOS is highly toxic (acute) to honey bees and bioconcentrates in fish;
* it has been detected in tissues of wild birds and fish, in surface water and in sediment, in wastewater treatment plant effluent, sewage sludge and in landfill leachate.

8. In response to these findings, the Environment Agency for England and Wales commissioned a study to review the environmental risks (RER) arising from uses of PFOS. This can be viewed at www.environment-agency.gov.uk/commondata/105385/pfos_rer_sept04_864557.pdf. The RER concluded that PFOS is a risk to the environment and that it meets the PBT criteria for concern outlined in the UK chemicals strategy and is therefore a priority for action. It has identified risks to the environment for all remaining uses of PFOS related substances. The calculated background concentrations have been found to be sufficiently high to indicate a risk for secondary poisoning without the local contributions from the specific use patterns. The RER also indicates that for the freshwater food chain, emissions would need to be reduced to less than one twelfth of the current estimates in order to remove the concerns.

9. Defra commissioned an environmental Risk Reduction Strategy (RRS) for PFOS and related substances, including an analysis of the advantages and drawbacks of potential risk reduction options. This can be viewed at www.defra.gov.uk/environment/chemicals/ukpolicy.htm.

10. It should be noted that the UK Review of Environmental Risks (RER) has informed the development of the RRS (and vice versa).

11. Based on information received, it can be said that 3M's voluntary phase out of PFOS production has led to a significant reduction in the use of PFOS related substances in the UK and the EU more generally. For example, well over 100 tonnes was used in the UK alone in 2000, against a current market across the whole of the EU of around 5 tonnes. This is due not only to the limited availability of these substances (3M had at the time the greatest production capacity of PFOS related substances production in the world), but also to action within the relevant industry sectors to decrease companies' dependence on these substances.

12. Today's meeting of the UK Chemicals Stakeholder Forum will be its first since its membership and working practices were reformed by the Government following national consultation earlier this year. The Forum has been asked by the Government to find a more effective method of working with industry to provide missing data on chemicals of concern, and to act as a sounding board on different facets of the REACH negotiations.

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