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Supply Chain News: Add another Priority to the Procurement Agenda - Killing Forever Chemicals


Bans are Likely, with Different Transitions Periods Depending on Product Category

Sept. 12, 2023
SCDigest Editorial Staff

It’s not like procurement doesn’t have enough to do, what with new ESG initiatives, the need to create more supply chain resilience, executive demands to reduce risk and much more, on top of its traditional roles in keeping procurement costs low in times of high inflation.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

Procurement’s role would be critical, as one approach might be to give companies some period of time, to find a substitute. Likely the transition period would vary – likely widely - depending on the dynamics of each product category.

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You can add eliminating “forever chemicals” to that list, as procurement is sure to play a key role along with governments in getting rid of these highly useful but perhaps deadly materials.

What are forever chemicals?

As reported on the UKs web site this summer, they are perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – incredible manmade plastic materials developed to withstand heat, grease and stains.

They can solve many production and product problems. For some 70 years, more than 12,000 variants were developed and are found a huge number of products, from protective coatings for food packaging, cookware and clothing, cosmetics and paints, in manufacture of pharmaceuticals, electronics, and even foods.

They are also essential for fire safety, and became the material of chouse for protecting soft furnishings, as well as a key ingredient in fire-extinguisher foams.

There’s just one problem: “They are as durable as they are pervasive,” Supply Management notes.

These plastics do not break down in the environment and instead bioaccumulate, and many believe causing big health risks in the process.

In some governmental analyses, PFAS have been found in the blood of 97% of Americans. That includes in the blood of unborn babies.

In short: everywhere someone looks, PFAS are found.

Some studies have found PFAS are toxic even in tiny amounts and they have a strong proven link to health problems, including cancers and hormonal dysfunction.

In fact, the US government has classifes PFAS as a “likely human carcinogen.”

Supply Management characterizes it like this: “Time is up for forever chemicals, but ahead lies a long process to replace and eradicate them. And this will be an important and challenging feat for procurement worldwide.”

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It’s not easy to get rid of substances that product engineers and manufacturing engineers have become very dependent on.

The European Union announced in February that it was considering banning the use of forever chemicals starting 2026, in what would be one of the largest action on chemical substances ever in Europe.

Could that really happen? And what would be the ramifications?

It could throw some industries into chaos, as in many applications there are few, if any, known alternatives.

Some fear an absolute ban an outright ban “could cause some industries to collapse overnight,” Supply Management notes.

Procurement’s role would be critical, as one approach might be to give companies some period of time, to find a substitute. Likely the transition period would vary – likely widely - depending on the dynamics of each product category.

One expert tells Supply Management that companies will need time to map their supply chain and find out how significantly they or their extended supply chains use PFAS, then work to develop and implement alternatives.

Many companies could find certain components they source container PFAS and they had no idea.

This issue is likely to keep procurement managers at many companies busy for many years.

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