The toxic materials that have come to be known as "forever chemicals" because of their ability to build up in the environment, wildlife, and humans could soon be on their way out in the European Union, after officials began consideration of ban on more than 10,000 chemical substances in the PFAS family.
Representatives from Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have been collaborating on the proposal, and said in a statement that the ban will "make products and processes safer for humans."
"A ban on PFAS would reduce quantities of PFAS in the environment over the long term," they added.
"You can find PFAS in penguins in the Antarctic, in polar bears in the Arctic, even in rain water in Tibet."
The ban on per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances—used in tens of thousands of everyday products including non-stick pans, raincoats, textiles, and cars—would take effect 18 months after its passage for products for which manufacturers have identified alternatives.
Companies that cannot readily switch to using alternative materials will have up to 12 years to comply with the ban.
The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) praised the E.U. for its "comprehensive" proposal "to cut PFAS emissions at the source, which is long overdue."
"Now member states have to work together towards a highly protective restriction that is as broad as possible in terms of PFAS coverage and uses," said Natacha Cingotti, health and chemicals program lead at HEAL.
PFAS have been linked to a variety of illnesses including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid issues, and immune problems.
Since the chemicals do not decompose due to strong bonds between carbon and fluorine atoms, they have been detected in human breast milk samples. A study released last month by Duke University and the Environmental Working Group found that eating just one freshwater fish in the U.S. exposes a person to the same amount of PFAS as drinking contaminated water for a month.
"You can find PFAS in penguins in the Antarctic, in polar bears in the Arctic, even in rain water in Tibet," said Audun Heggelund of the Norwegian Environment Agency at a media briefing in Brussels on Tuesday.
Actor and environmental activist Mark Ruffalo called the proposal "amazing news" and called on U.S. officials to act urgently to eliminate the use of PFAS.
"We need the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop playing with our people's health," said Ruffalo.