Manufacturers 'need PFAS programs now' - Assent

By Cally Edgren
PFAS - or 'forever chemicals' - are a ticking sustainability time-bomb and manufacturers must act now to control them, says Assent

Due to increased scrutiny on the harmful health and environmental effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals”, the US is cracking down on PFAS use in manufactured goods. On May 24, Minnesota passed what is considered the broadest PFAS in products ban in the U.S., following restrictions passed in numerous other states, including Maine, California, Colorado, Vermont, Washington, and many others. Both Minnesota and Maine have additionally created new laws requiring manufacturers of products with PFAS to register in a state-wide database; experts expect even more states to follow suit, using these regulations and model frameworks.

In addition to an avalanche of PFAS regulations at the state level, manufacturers should be preparing for federal PFAS reporting rules from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many international laws in development. It’s clear that PFAS is a hot regulatory topic — taking a wait-and-see approach is only going to cost manufacturers time that they’ll need for data collection and risk management planning. Instead, businesses should start taking inventory of PFAS in the parts and equipment they procure so they can be prepared for applicable pending legislation, supply chain obsolescence, and reporting obligations. 

Regulatory uncertainty & precedents

in the US, state-level PFAS requirements have set a precedent for sweeping PFAS bans in products, aside from where PFAS is considered an essential use for public health. Most manufacturers have little time to conduct due diligence on sourced parts and components to understand if PFAS are in their products. Minnesota’s PFAS rule, for example: 

  • Prohibits the sale of certain goods containing PFAS by 2025
  • Introduces a broad reporting rule for 2026
  • Sets a total PFAS ban deadline for 2032 

Businesses will need to engage their suppliers for PFAS data, establish a PFAS reporting process internally, and potentially reformulate products in a relatively short time frame. Considering how long it can take to collect accurate bill-of-materials data and redesign products, manufacturers need a head start well before rules are finalised. 

The state-by-state approach to PFAS regulations makes it difficult for manufacturers to comply and remain competitive. It’s more costly for manufacturers to establish reporting programs, as a manufacturer may need to submit numerous nearly-identical notifications to several state departments to stay in business. 

Supplier data & compliance

One area where regulatory clarity is improving is the acceptance of supplier data in PFAS due diligence and reporting, rather than an over-reliance on testing data. For example, the state of Maine’s PFAS law was amended in June to allow manufacturers to report PFAS amounts based on information provided by a supplier rather than testing. In their proposal for PFAS reporting under Section 8(a)(7) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the EPA refers to collecting data from supply chains for reporting.

The supplier query approach is a long-accepted method for managing compliance with product materials regulations. Much like EU regulators accept supplier data for the EU Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive under IEC 63000, the EPA and Maine recognise that collecting data on PFAS from suppliers provides reliable data when done correctly with trustworthy suppliers. 

This is good news for manufacturers: test methodologies haven’t yet been developed for the majority of regulated PFAS, and the testing process can be time-consuming and expensive. Manufacturers that engage their supply chains and use supplier data for PFAS requirements will have an advantage in the market and be able to demonstrate compliance more quickly. 

Designing a strong PFAS programme

To stay ahead of PFAS requirements as they roll out across the states in anticipation of a federal EPA rule, manufacturers need to establish a supply chain strategy for PFAS data. 

  • Start engaging suppliers now with standardised queries. An automated solution will be key in reaching out to a high volume of suppliers and avoiding sending emails one by one. 
  • Educate suppliers on PFAS requirements: globalised manufacturing means suppliers might not know what to report or why it’s urgent. Manufacturers may need to reach out in their preferred language.
  • Use the federal EPA TSCA Inventory PFAS list rather than chasing after state-specific PFAS lists — it will reflect the PFAS actually in use in the U.S., instead of confusing suppliers by requiring them to include thousands of theoretical substances.
  • Eliminate data silos: it’s not just your compliance team using PFAS data. Everyone related to procurement, engineering, and even legal teams needs PFAS information. 

Because manufacturing supply chains are complex and PFAS are in almost every type of product, it can take time to set up a due diligence program, so it’s important to think proactively. By taking these steps, manufacturers can reduce their PFAS risks and stay ahead of proliferating regulations. Manufacturers will want to act quickly and be strategic — for many, they will be better to find a partner with PFAS expertise rather than try to build a program from scratch. 

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