Making the Case for Proactive PFAS Elimination
Today, getting per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) out of your supply chain is critical for business continuity and global market access. PFAS regulations are growing in number, and the requirements themselves are tightening. For example, earlier regulations called on organizations to merely disclose the use of PFAS, whereas some newer ones prohibit PFAS entirely. As a product steward, you see the urgency in removing PFAS, but do others in your organization share your view? If they’re outside of the product compliance department, your peers might not understand that the sooner you act, the better.
How do you convince stakeholders in your organization that identifying and potentially eliminating PFAS from your supply chain now is critical, and not just because of direct product regulatory impact? The key is to talk to people whose work will be ultimately impacted by PFAS regulations and ensure they understand what’s required of them. Here are some teams you should prioritize when it comes to these discussions:
- design engineering
- quality management
- environmental, health and safety (EHS)
- legal department
By acting now, you can avoid losing market access, early obsolescence, and legal and liability risks.
The procurement department is directly responsible for purchasing the materials that go into your products and “owns” relationships with your suppliers. The procurement department must be aware of new product materials compliance issues that will require supplier data, especially upcoming PFAS restrictions.
By getting ahead of the issue, they’ll have a better chance of sourcing compliant materials, especially given the looming challenge of parts obsolescence, which will become a significant problem for manufacturers for three reasons:
- Early obsolescence — Suppliers are beginning to eliminate PFAS from their supply chains, sometimes changing the properties and functions of materials or discontinuing them altogether.
- New sourcing — Manufacturers will have to compete to obtain PFAS-free materials as demand increases across all industries.
- Shortages — Until more suppliers have eliminated PFAS from their materials, it will be difficult to find compliant parts. Price and delivery will also be affected.
If you can’t source compliant materials, you won’t be able to produce your products, which means you won’t be able to fulfill customer orders. That hurts your bottom line.
Eliminating PFAS from your products and manufacturing processes could lead to design changes for your products. That’s why involving the design engineering team is crucial.
This team might need to redesign or requalify existing products for market access. Neither of those are simple or inexpensive processes, and focusing on redesigning existing products takes time and investment away from new product development. Products could lose functionality or performance because PFAS replacements don’t have the same characteristics. Redesign, once new materials and parts are identified and sourced, may impact product certifications requiring new testing, agency approvals, or label changes. As everyone is scrambling to meet the new requirements or deal with early supplier obsolescence, laboratory availability, lead time, and testing costs will continue to grow.
It’s better not to wait until regulations go into effect before starting this work, as product designers and certification teams need as much time as possible to make decisions about whether to redesign or obsolete products impacted by new PFAS regulations.
When you change your processes or parts because of materials obsolescence, that can impact your operations, product quality, and your choice of suppliers. Involving the quality management team in removing PFAS from the supply chain is a must.
Manufacturing processes may need to be requalified or audited if materials are changed. New suppliers may need to be identified and qualified or onboarded. Products may need retesting to meet quality standards. As with the process changes involving the design engineering team, the sooner you start, the better. These processes are expensive and lengthy, and you don’t want to wait until you’re subject to regulatory fines.
The goal of the EHS department is to keep employees safe at work. Ironically, due to performance characteristics, PFAS are often used both as a safety process chemical (for example, as a mist suppressant during electroplating operations) as well as in personal protective equipment (PPE). We see PFAS in firefighting foams as well as in PPE that protects against heat and fire and resists water.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employees in many industries to use PPE, and fire safety equipment is a must-have at manufacturing facilities. Operations and EHS departments may have to find new ways to meet OSHA requirements and keep employees safe if they can’t use PFAS as either a direct processing chemical or embedded in safety equipment.
PFAS pose a legal risk to manufacturers, too—not just because of regulatory obligations, but due to consumer and customer litigation. Since 2005, the number of PFAS lawsuits has exponentially increased to over 6,400. While previous lawsuits targeted chemical manufacturers, finished product manufacturers have recently come under fire for making claims that their products are all-natural or healthy when, in fact, they contain PFAS.
The increase in lawsuits has made insurers sit up and take notice. Many are already unwilling to insure manufacturers for PFAS claims because they don’t want to pay for personal injury, medical monitoring, claims of fraud, or remediation of contaminated water, air, and soil. We’ll see more and more insurers exclude PFAS coverage. Manufacturers can’t operate without insurance—it’s too big of a liability.
Understanding Your PFAS Impact Can’t Wait
While some regulations restricting PFAS haven’t yet gone into effect, PFAS use has so many other impacts that manufacturers can’t afford to wait. It’s time to start taking action on PFAS. The sooner you start educating other internal stakeholders whose responsibilities will be affected by PFAS, the easier it will be to protect your company against the many risks that PFAS present to your business.
Join me on June 14 and 15, 2023, at Assent Evolve, the premier virtual event for complex manufacturers. Assent will share the latest regulatory insights into PFAS and unveil a solution to help manufacturers identify these risks in their supply chain. Register now!