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Warning over huge threat to refrigeration from new chemical regulations - Refrigeration and Air Conditioning

Warning over huge threat to refrigeration from new chemical regulations - Refrigeration and Air Conditioning

Chemicals firms have issued a dramatic call to arms to the refrigeration industry to work to stop refrigerants being drawn into a register of dangerous substances.

The chemicals firms are so concerned at the consequences of HFCs and HFOs being included in the proposed PFAS (Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) Restrictions that they are urging refrigeration companies to work with big customers such as retailers and NHS Trusts to help press for change with policymakers.

One senior executive at a chemicals firm was forthright in setting out the challenge: “We have 12-18 months  to have a practical dialogue with policymakers…it is up to us as an industry, including our customers, to step up a discussion which is based on science.”

The current scope of these restrictions, which are part of the European REACH  (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) Regulations, will see as many as 4,700 different chemicals placed under restrictions in manufacture and use. The UK has committed to following the REACH rules following Brexit.

But chemicals firms say that while the intent of the Restriction is clearly vital to ensure that dangerous substances are appropriately controlled, the current ‘drag net’ approach to PFAS will see chemicals that aren’t fundamentally hazardous subjected to onerous additional controls.

Refrigerants particularly are seen as in need of an exemption because they are not only essential to life and health, but they are not dangerous throughout their lifecycle - and are already extensively regulated, via the F-Gas Regulation, Pressure Equipment Directive and other controls.

There is such concern that if these broad restrictions are ultimately rolled out globally, it could see as many as a million jobs lost across the industries that work with the chemicals.

Refrigerant manufacturer Chemours stressed its position in a letter to customers yesterday: “We do not believe that F-gases should be considered in this restriction. They are vital across a wide spectrum of industries, offer unique combinations of properties, and are safe for their intended use…”

The situation has gathered urgency following the publication yesterday by five European countries – Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden - of their restriction intentions, which is the first step towards legislation. The proposal states that the intention of the PFAS Restriction is to prevent environmental damage from the substances, which through their solubility can cause contamination of groundwater, drinking water and soils.

The proposal continues: “It has been proven very difficult and extremely costly to remove PFAS when released to the environment. In addition, some PFAS have been documented as toxic and/or bioaccumulative [accumulating in living organisms] substances, both with respect to human health as well as the environment. Without taking action, their concentrations will continue to increase, and their toxic and polluting effects will be difficult to reverse.”

But the senior chemicals executive said the scope was far too broad: “This ‘scope creep’ will be extremely damaging if we don’t speak out as an industry…HFO solutions are actually doing good for the world, via all their applications, for instnnce. They simply aren’t the toxic, groundwater-contaminating chemicals that the rules were originally intended to cover - millions of dollars are currently spent on refrigerant safety. On top of that, billions of dollars have been spent already on developing these refrigerants as lower-GWP alternatives.”

In alerting customers to the development, Chemours noted that the move by the five countries  was only the start of a process which will allow at least two opportunities for formal stakeholder feedback. The manufacturer said it was already working with trade associations and called on customers to do the same.

The senior executive stressed that the wider industry needs to be involved, so that the discussion is not simply about chemicals but about the effect on industries such as retail, health and data centres: “It needs a collaboration between governments and businesses that will find a practical solution…but it needs to speak out boldly so that the policymakers will listen.”

Trade association such as the EFTC and EPEE, are spearheading the campaigning on a European level. Companies in the UK can contact the BRA for further information on PFAS – email info@feta.co.uk