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Tue June 18 2024

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Construction machinery manufacturers seek exemptions on forever chemicals

21 May Construction machinery manufacturers have joined a worldwide industrial lobbying movement to support the continued use of toxic chemicals.

PFAS feature in coatings, seals, cables, hoses, hydraulics and air conditioning of excavators and other machinery
PFAS feature in coatings, seals, cables, hoses, hydraulics and air conditioning of excavators and other machinery

The European Union has been tightening the rules concerning per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in recent years and is heading in the direction of a total ban.

PFAS are also known as forever chemicals because they rarely break down and cannot be cleaned.

Various global authorities are looking at clamping down further on these chemicals, or even an outright ban.

Construction machinery manufacturers are worried. Manufacturers’ organisations from Europe, the USA, Japan, Korea, India and Australia have come together to formulate a joint response to what they regard as a threat – a threat to machine safety, a threat to durability and a threat to their businesses.

“Regarding our internationally intertwined supply chains, we believe a coordinated approach to regulating PFAS across regions is needed. It has become apparent that any general restriction on PFAS will have severe repercussions over both import and export of equipment, thereby threatening the quality of the trade relationships between our regions.”

They say: “We stand for a substance-specific approach to regulating diverse PFAS as it contributes to making proportionate decisions while ensuring a level-playing field across industries. Referring to the Montreal Protocol, multiple authorities around the world are considering extending application of essential use criteria to PFAS restriction and authorization procedures. Considering our need for legal certainty, our numerous PFAS industrial applications, to which few credible alternatives can be proposed today, should remain regulated in accordance with the principle of proportionality.

“Our construction equipment manufacturers design products to effectively operate for decades mostly in harsh and demanding environments whilst satisfying safety, environmental, regulatory, durability, quality, and customer requirements. Construction equipment manufacturers use state-of-the-art and innovative technologies to meet the challenging variety of requirements, with PFAS performing a variety of essential use functions to help achieve these goals. It is crucial to understand that without the functionality provided by certain PFAS chemicals, the future construction equipment products able to meet air quality, climate, safety, durability, waste, sustainability, and alternative power goals is imperilled.”

Here is what the US Environmental Protection Agency says about these chemicals: “PFAS are widely used, long lasting chemicals, components of which break down very slowly over time.

“Because of their widespread use and their persistence in the environment, many PFAS are found in the blood of people and animals all over the world and are present at low levels in a variety of food products and in the environment.

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“PFAS are found in water, air, fish, and soil at locations across the nation and the globe. Scientific studies have shown that exposure to some PFAS in the environment may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals.

“There are thousands of PFAS chemicals, and they are found in many different consumer, commercial, and industrial products. This makes it challenging to study and assess the potential human health and environmental risks.”

Here’s what the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has to say: “Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large class of thousands of synthetic chemicals that are used throughout society. However, they are increasingly detected as environmental pollutants and some are linked to negative effects on human health.

“They all contain carbon-fluorine bonds, which are one of the strongest chemical bonds in organic chemistry. This means that they resist degradation when used and also in the environment. Most PFAS are also easily transported in the environment covering long distances away from the source of their release.

“PFAS have been frequently observed to contaminate groundwater, surface water and soil. Cleaning up polluted sites is technically difficult and costly. If releases continue, they will continue to accumulate in the environment, drinking water and food.”

Applications of PFAS in the construction equipment industry include:

  • coatings and seals
  • cables and hoses
  • hydraulic systems (PFAS is an additive in hydraulic fluids and lubricants)
  • refrigerants: the industry uses two PFAS substances, HFC-134a and HFO-1234yf, in air conditioning systems
  • alternative power technologies: PFAS provides the functional properties that are essential for many new alternative power technologies, including batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.

Seeking to head off an outright ban, the construction machinery manufacturers say:

“Our industry fully supports proportionate laws and regulations that mitigate hazards from the high-risk sources of PFAS pollution. We thus extend to our respective regions’ authorities the following recommendations:

  • Prioritise future regulatory efforts on high-risk PFAS chemicals and end-use applications.
  • Focus regulatory efforts on PFAS chemical release prevention, waste disposal, material handling, recycling, and environmental remediation as opposed to broad prohibitions.
  • When defining PFAS, adopt a single worldwide harmonized list of PFAS.
  • When restricting PFAS, adopt substance-specific measures based on the principle of proportionality instead of essential use criteria.
  • Provide ample transition periods for OEMs to adapt to new regulatory requirements.
  • Provide specific exemptions to aftermarket parts to foster circularity.
  • Collaborate with industry stakeholders along the supply chains.

“Ultimately, construction equipment manufacturers are committed to addressing these issues by serving as a catalyst for innovation and working to engage with policymakers and civil society on our viewpoints and solutions to these important questions.”

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