Japanese Companies Worried about Potential EU Ban on PFAS; Substances Employed in Semiconductors and Fire Suppression Technology

A new group of synthetic organofluorine chemical compounds known as PFAS (perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances) is creating concern as local governments discover toxic compounds in rivers and wells across the nation. The use of PFAS in a wide range of products, including semiconductors and electric vehicles, has prompted moves to tighten restrictions on the substances in Europe and other areas.

Chemical manufacturers are working on developing alternative materials to replace PFAS, potentially opening up new business opportunities. PFAS, which are both water- and oil-repellent and resistant to heat, are used in semiconductor chip production, non-stick frying pan coatings, and foam fire extinguishers.

Concerns are particularly focused on the suspected toxicity of PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), with experts warning that high levels of the substances could lead to cancer and other diseases. In response, by 2021, the Japanese government had completely prohibited the production and import of the two substances.

Issues have arisen in Japan, with chemical plants detecting PFAS chemicals in water channels in concentrations exceeding government limits, and instances of leaked foam fire extinguishers at U.S. military bases. Due to the uncertainties surrounding the substances’ impact on human health, the government plans to conduct a study on their toxicity.

Although chemical material makers currently use PFAS that have not been confirmed to negatively affect human health, European countries are reportedly discussing a gradual ban on almost all fluorine compounds. This development has companies using PFAS on high alert over potential regulations.

Tightening regulations in Europe may come into effect in the latter half of the 2020s, potentially impacting Japanese companies’ ability to export products containing PFAS to European countries. This has prompted calls for regulations to be carefully considered and for measures to be taken to prevent PFAS leakage.

On the flip side, the tightening of regulations may create new business opportunities. For instance, Mitsubishi Chemical has developed a plastic material with similar fire-resistant properties to PFAS, forecasting its use in personal computers and smartphones. Additionally, DIC Corp. has developed a surface active agent for semiconductor manufacturing that does not contain PFAS.

Professor Takeshi Hasegawa of Kyoto University’s Institute for Chemical Research recommends caution, stating, “Though I think not all PFAS are toxic, it is surely better not to let them leak to the outside. Makers need to take measures to prevent this.”

The situation with PFAS compounds continues to develop as governments and industries navigate their impact on both the environment and human health. Vigilance in both regulation and development of alternative materials will be key in addressing the concerns raised by the use of PFAS.


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