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PFAS lock down

26 October 2019 - The environment

The Netherlands are already in a reactive nitrogen lock down with 18,000 building and construction projects halted indefinitely because reactive nitrogen emissions from these projects destroy biodiversity. One possible solution considered by policy makers is the reduction of the agro industry (taking out a lot of ammonia) which of course got the farming community in an uproar. But reactive nitrogen is not the only threat to the Dutch enterprise, 2019 is also the year of perfluorinated alkylated substances or PFAS (TheGuardian article). It is a collection of around 6000 man-made chemicals. An example is perfluorooctanesulfonic acid and all compounds having to do the GenX chemical process are also involved notably Hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO?DA). According to a Volkskrant article (link) new legislation prohibits the handling of soil (a typical thing to see in construction work) if it contains more than 0.1 microgram per kilogram PFAS. The article (we cry a little that the author describes PFAS as miniscule chemical particles) several builders are interviewed complaining that this basically means not a single scoop of dirt in the country can be moved because even virgin soil exceeds this limit.

But how did this legislation come about? In June the European Chemicals Agency decided to label HFPO-DA as a substance of very high concern (link) honoring a Dutch proposal. The compound is bad for your health and for the environment and annoying will last forever because it lacks biodegradability. The current list of candidates (link) for designation as problematic has around 200 compounds of which at least 12 contain fluorine. Pentadecafluorooctanoic acid is also on the list and a candidate since 2013. The Dutch government then came up with the 0.1 mg safety limit (link) and will wait for more research on the harmful effects (better safe than sorry). The origin of the 0.1 mg is vague but possibly based on three times the detection limit.

And why is the country so interested in PFAS? It is host a GenX Du Pont plant (Chemours) in the city of Dordrecht with a long history of chemical accidents (release of perfluorisobuteen is an example) and pollution (link). Locals have for years been exposed to GenX related compounds. A cunning plan to get rid of this plant now appears to backfire.