The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), an agency of the EU, on February 7 published a proposal from the national authorities of Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden to restrict per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – so called forever chemicals – under REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), the EU’s chemicals regulation.
The long-awaited “Universal Restriction Proposal” – officially known as the Annex XV Restriction Report – would restrict the manufacture, use or sale of certain f-gas refrigerants as substances on their own or in blends according to certain thresholds. ECHA announced on January 13 that it had received the proposal.
This would include both HFCs and HFOs, such as HFC-125, HFC-134a, HFC-143a, HFO-1234yf, HFO-1234ze(E), HFO–1336mzz(Z) and HFO-1336mzz(E). The proposal would apply to trifluoracetic acid (TFA), an atmospheric degradation product of, notably, HFO-1234yf (100% conversion) and HFC-134a (up to 20% conversion).
The restrictions would apply 18 months from entry into force (EiF) of the final text. Restrictions on these f-gases would support the wider adoption of natural refrigerants across Europe.
“It is more about seeing the possibilities rather than the ghosts when selecting the optimal refrigerant for the project or a product,” note the five countries submitting the proposal in Annex E.
The definition of PFAS used in the proposal is close to the one adopted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2021, which includes many f-gas refrigerants and TFA. This definition of PFAS has already been proposed in a complementary PFAS Restriction Intention on firefighting foams, creating a parallel workstream that reinforces the need to maintain this definition.
The proposal defines PFAS as “substances that contains at least one fully fluorinated methyl (CF3-) or methylene (-CF2-) carbon atom (without any H/Cl/Br/I attached to it).”
A substance that only contains the following structural elements is excluded from the scope of the restriction: CF3-X or X-CF2-X’, where X = -OR or -NRR’ and X’ = methyl (-CH3), methylene (- CH2-), an aromatic group, a carbonyl group (-C(O)-), -OR”, -SR” or –NR”R”’; and where R/R’/R”/R”’ is a hydrogen (-H), methyl (-CH3), methylene (-CH2-), an aromatic group or a carbonyl group (-C(O)-). The designated f-gases and TFA would not fall under the exclusions.
PFAS chemicals have come under regulatory scrutiny because of their durability in nature and harmful effect on human health and the environment. F-gases considered PFAS were recently added to the SIN (Substitute It Now) List of hazardous chemicals compiled by ChemSec (The International Chemical Secretariat), a nonprofit organization funded by the Swedish government. TFA has been on the list since 2019.
The proposal contains some time-based refrigerant exemptions:
- Refrigerants in low-temperature refrigeration below -50°C (-58°F) until 6.5 years after EiF
- Refrigerants in laboratory test and measurement equipment until 13.5 years after EiF
- Refrigerants in refrigerated centrifuges until 13.5 years after EiF
- Refrigerants used in maintenance and refilling of existing HVACR equipment for which no drop-in alternative exist until 13.5 years after EiF
- Refrigerants in mobile air-conditioning (MAC) systems in combustion engine vehicles with mechanical compressors until 6.5 years after EiF
- Refrigerants in transport refrigeration other than in marine applications until 6.5 years after EiF
And one general exemption:
- Refrigerants in HVACR-equipment in buildings where national safety standards and building codes prohibit the use of alternatives
ECHA’s scientific committees for Risk Assessment (RAC) and for Socio-Economic Analysis (SEAC) will check that the proposed restriction meets the legal requirements of REACH in their meetings in March 2023. If it does, the committees will begin their scientific evaluation of the proposal.
A six-month consultation is planned to start on March 22, 2023. An online information session will be organized on April 5, 2023, to explain the restriction process and help those interested in participating in the consultation.
In addition, ATMOsphere, publisher of R744.com, will organize with ChemSec a webinar in March to explain how to submit feedback to ECHA during the consultation stage.
The opinions of RAC and SEAC are normally ready within 12 months of the start of the scientific evaluation, in accordance with REACH. However, in view of the “complexity of the proposal and the extent of information that is expected from the consultation,” the committees may need more time to finalize their opinions, ECHA said.
Once the opinions are adopted, they are sent to the European Commission, which together with the EU Member States will then decide on potential restrictions.