The topic of PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) has been receiving a high media presence, which involves a ban on more than 10,000 substances at European level. In addition to toxic and highly volatile substances, the current ECHA-draft also provides for a ban on products that have become an integral part of daily life and industry. It is about fluoroplastics and fluoroelastomers such as PTFE, FKM, FVMQ, FFKM. PFAS are a group of industrial chemicals, they all share a similar molecular structure, a ‘carbon chain’, and the element, ‘fluorine’. This carbon-fluorine bond is incredibly strong, which makes PFAS extremely difficult to break down.
Harmful non-polymer forms of PFAS are used in the production of PFAS polymers. They are based on chains of carbon atoms, usually with a chain length between 2 and 13 atoms, much shorter than those of polymers. These non-polymers can be split into a further 3 groups. The basic structure of these groups is the same, being primarily made up of carbon and fluorine in a repeating pattern, but the difference is that each group has another chemical group added (either a carboxylic acid, a sulfonic acid or an alcohol). The shorter chain means, compared to polymers, they are more mobile, reactive and more easily transferred into wildlife and humans.
The very large polymer PFAS, e.g. PTFE/FKM/FVMQ/FFKM, etc. are often considered to be too big to be taken up by our bodies, and therefore unlikely to cause us any harm. Fluoroelastomers and -plastics have no reactive or functional groups that could enter chemical reactions and are therefore chemically inert. In addition, they are difficult to degrade due to their low solubility in water or other solvents and their high molecular weight of Mn ≥ 1000 g/mol, in addition, fluoroplastics are thermally stable and can withstand high temperatures. This means that they do not break down into their constituent parts or decompose during use and do not release harmful emissions.
Accumulation of fluoroplastics in the human body is also unlikely, as they are not bioaccumulative due to their chemical structure. In conclusion, there are currently no restrictions on the use of fluoroelastomer and/or fluoropolymer products, nor are there any studies claiming that they are dangerous.
GITIS is aware of the growing concerns about PFAS chemicals and is taking steps to eliminate them. We are currently in the process of converting all our compounds to a polymer base manufactured without fluorinated surfactants, the so called FSFP compounds. This move is an important part of our sustainability strategy and helps to reduce our environmental impact. We are committed to working with our customers to ensure a smooth transition. The importance of a stable supply chain is core of our business operations; therefore, we have developed a comprehensive plan to support the transition and ensure supply: Our internal activities have started in March 2023; it will take some more months until we have finalized all testing.
Some materials will be immediately based on the new technology, other compound classes will see the transition in 2024/2025, depending on the grades. With the FSFP compound technology we will maintain our promise to the market to support our customers with the best sealing technology, based on the first test and results we do not expect changes on general material performance.
There are some changes in the supply chain of food grade FKMs; nevertheless, GITIS will continue to provide our core technologies for bisphenolic and peroxide cured Food Grade FKMs. We have projects in place to reformulate and revalidate our materials until the end of 2023. Until 2025 we will then integrate here as well the polymers without fluorinated surfactants to serve the market with genuine FSFP Food Grade compounds.