PTFE ban: The hidden consumer costs and employment losses

As part of the EU’s landmark Green Deal package, the 2020 Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability called for an ambitious concept: achieving a toxic-free environment by 2030. A central pillar of this ambition is the proposal for a universal PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — restriction, addressing contamination and emissions from the controversial family of substances sometimes known as ‘forever chemicals’.

Action to tackle this family of chemicals is overdue, and European industry is ready to do its part. As the president of the Federation of the European Cookware, Cutlery and Houseware Industries (FEC), I welcome the initiative. FEC members pride themselves on providing safe and durable products to consumers, and were early to phase out these problematic substances. Despite this, the current restriction proposal still needs substantial changes to achieve its goals of protecting human health and the environment while balancing socioeconomic effects, impacts on carbon emissions and circularity.

While many elements of the proposed restriction are well justified, some risk damaging the EU industry’s competitiveness and hindering progress on the green and digital transitions, all while banning substances which are known to be safe. The European authorities need to understand the impacts of the proposal more thoroughly before making decisions which will harm consumers and the European workforce, and perhaps even result in worse environmental outcomes.

The current restriction proposal still needs substantial changes to achieve its goals of protecting human health and the environment while balancing socioeconomic effects.

As the most complex and wide-ranging chemical restriction in EU history, it is essential that the institutions take no shortcuts, and take the time to clearly understand the unintended environmental and socioeconomic impacts on every sector.

The PFAS restriction proposal is broad, covering over 10,000 substances, many of which were not considered part of the PFAS family in the past. In an effort to catch all possible problematic chemicals that could be used in the future, the member countries which proposed the restriction have cast a net so wide that it also includes substances which pose no risk. Even the OECD, the source of the broad scope used by the authorities, concedes that its definition is not meant to be used to define the list of chemicals to be regulated.

In addition to the legacy PFAS substances, which have serious concerns for human health and the environment, the proposal also includes fluoropolymers in its scope, which are not mobile in the environment, not toxic and not bioaccumulative — a stark contrast to the controversial PFAS substances at the center of contamination scandals across Europe and around the globe.

As the most complex and wide-ranging chemical restriction in EU history, it is essential that the institutions take no shortcuts.

Fluoropolymers are well studied, with ample scientific evidence demonstrating their safety, and unlike legacy PFAS, technologies exist to control and eliminate any emissions of substances of concern from manufacturing to disposal.

Fluoropolymers are not only safe, their safety is a primary reason for their widespread use. They provide critical functionality in sensitive applications like medical devices, semiconductors and renewable energy technology. They are also used in products we all use in our day-to-day lives, from non-stick cookware to electrical appliances to cars. While in some cases there are alternatives to fluoropolymers, these replacements are often inferior, more expensive, or have even more environmental impact in the long run. Where alternatives aren’t yet identified, companies will need to spend large sums to identify replacements.

In the cookware industry, for example, fluoropolymers provide durable, safe and high-performing non-stick coatings for pots, pans and cooking appliances used by billions of people across Europe and around the globe. Decades of research and development show that not only are these products safe, but their coatings provide the most high-performing, durable and cost-effective solution. Continued research and development of these products is one of the reasons that the European cookware industry is considered a world leader.

Fluoropolymers are well studied, with ample scientific evidence demonstrating their safety and … technologies exist to control and eliminate any emissions of substances of concern from manufacturing to disposal.

Given the critical role that fluoropolymers play in so many products and technologies, forcing a search for inferior or even nonexistent alternatives will harm the EU’s competitiveness and strategic autonomy. In the cookware industry alone, the restriction could cost up to 14,800 jobs in Europe, reduce the economic contribution of the sector to the GDP by up to €500 million, and result in a major shift of production from Europe to Asia, where the products would be made under much less stringent environmental rules. Consumers will also suffer, with new alternatives costing more and being less durable, requiring more frequent replacement and therefore resulting in a larger environmental impact.

Beyond this, companies that enable the green transition, deliver life-saving medical treatments, and ensure our technology is efficient and powerful will all be required to engage in expensive and possibly fruitless efforts to replace fluoropolymers with new substances. What would be the benefit of these costs and unintended consequences, when fluoropolymers are already known to be safe across their whole lifecycle?

Given the critical role that fluoropolymers play in so many products and technologies, forcing a search for inferior or even nonexistent alternatives will harm the EU’s competitiveness and strategic autonomy.

The scale of the PFAS restriction is unprecedented, but so are the possible unintended consequences. Industry has contributed comprehensive evidence to help fill in the blanks left by the initial proposal, it is now up to the institutions to take this evidence into account. With such a far-reaching initiative, it is essential that the EU institutions and the member countries thoroughly consider the impacts and ensure the final restriction is proportional, preserves European competitiveness and does not undermine the broader strategic objectives set for the coming years.

Founded in 1952, FEC, the Federation of the European Cookware, Cutlery and Housewares Industries, represents a strong network of 40 international companies, major national associations and key suppliers spread over Europe, including in Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Our mission is to promote cooperation between members, and to provide expertise and support on economic and technical topics.



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Bosnian torture site survivors angered by museum praising perpetrators

Survivors of one of the harshest concentration camps of the Bosnian War are furious that a museum will be built in its place.

Their anger is compounded by the fact that the museum will not commemorate their suffering, but rather honour the army that held them against their will, including torturing and killing detainees.

“Imagine if the German armed forces had their own museum in a former concentration camp? It’s disgusting,” Edin Batlak, the head of the association of former inmates, told Euronews.

During the siege of Mostar in 1993-1994, the Croatian Defence Council or HVO established the Heliodrom Camp. A former military aviation compound was turned into a prison facility and used by the HVO to detain locals who they deemed to be against their cause, but also as a means of spreading fear among the local population.

For the duration of the camp’s existence, about 10,000 people were detained there, mostly men, but also women and children. At least 54 people were killed or died of maltreatment.

“More than 90% of the people held there were civilians who were basically pulled out of their houses and apartments, in their pyjamas and barefoot in some cases, gathered at the stadium in the western part of Mostar and then taken to the Heliodrom,” Batlak explained.

During the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, one of the bloodiest conflicts in Europe since World War II, most of the fighting resulted from ethnic tensions between the Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks, the country’s three main ethnic groups.

It was especially hard on Mostar, one of the most culturally and architecturally diverse cities in pre-war Bosnia, which faced gruelling shelling during the conflict and lost many of its inhabitants.

Batlak told Euronews that he and other survivors were able to visit their former place of detention for the first time this year “and lay flowers in the memory of those who perished there.”

Why build a museum there?

In order, ostensibly, to prevent the country’s ethnic groups from once again being pitted against each other, the post-war political system in Bosnia is set up in a complex maze of ethnic checks and balances which ensure that all sides are happy at all times – or at least not at each other’s throats.

The internationally mediated peace in the country has resulted in many protections for all three sides, even when they want to stick to their own version of history. This is why the three wartime belligerents now get to choose a location, anywhere in the country, where they can open a museum dedicated to their respective armies.

However, not all three sides committed war crimes equally. The Bosniak victims in Mostar, often reduced to their nominal Muslim faith, by far outnumbered the other groups in terms of casualties.

In addition, the Bosnian Croat army in Mostar had the financial and tactical support of neighbouring Croatia, which openly supported the people they considered their brethren in the country.

“They want to glorify their war crimes and present them as a positive thing. They want to be rewarded for denying and minimising war crimes,” Batlak exclaimed.

A political legacy shrouded in war crimes

While Bosnia tried to maintain its post-war order, those who committed crimes during the fighting were prosecuted at the Hague according to the highest international legal standards. In fact, Bosnia’s experience will likely serve as a useful guide for prosecuting war crimes committed during Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The case of Prlić et al prosecuted war crimes committed in southwestern Bosnia, including those at the Heliodrom Camp – although the case is more famous because one of the defendants, Slobodan Praljak, sneaked cyanide into the courtroom and ingested it during his sentencing in 2017.

The ICTY confirmed that the HVO participated in the unlawful detainment, torture and killing of prisoners of war, in Mostar and elsewhere – as alleged by Batlak and other survivors.

Today in Mostar, the political descendants of the Croatian forces are now grouped around the Croatian Democratic Union party, or HDZ, which is the strongest influence on local politics.

In fact, the current leader of the party, Dragan Čović, has been implicated in the abuse of the Heliodrom Camp detainees.

“The very fact that Čović participated in forced labour and basically brought the camp detainees to work at his company says a lot about what the party gets away with,” explains Amer Bahtijar, a journalist at the independent Tačno news outlet from Mostar.

The HDZ leader has not been charged with the crimes committed at the Heliodrom. Many believe that, if he were charged, he would depict himself as a Bosnian version of Oscar Schindler – the German industrialist who saved Jewish lives by employing them in his company.

Čović has successfully managed to present the forced labour of the detainees as something that was not illegal at the time, despite the fact that forcing those stripped of their freedoms to participate in labour is against the Geneva Conventions.

He claimed in interviews that “nobody worked for money at the time” and denies wrongdoing.

Yet several regional outlets have covered the testimonies of other survivors and even published documents in which Čović asks for Heliodrom detainees to be sent to work for his company.

For his role as a perceived peacemaker, Čović has been at the helm of Bosnian politics for decades, and is viewed as a reliable interlocutor for the international mediators involved in the country.

“This man is someone who the EU sees as a partner, instead of prosecuting and charging him with these crimes,” Bahtijar told Euronews.

Bahtijar is part of a group of independent and progressive voices in Mostar who insist that local Croats should resist being co-opted by HDZ in Bosnia and try to pave their own path, especially one that is not riddled with war-crime denialism.

“HDZ does not have a true opposition in terms of a Croat party that would oppose their domination. There aren’t enough media outlets that criticise them in the Mostar area either, and those who have vocally opposed their policies have literally been beaten up,” said Bahtijar.

“So they propagate an intense media censorship,” he concluded.

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