Over the past few years, there have been many new and proposed regulations to address per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances or “PFAS”. Why is this important in the rubber sealing industry? Fluoropolymers are lumped together with other PFAS that pose more significant risks to health and the environment. Fluoropolymers have distinct physical and chemical properties that should be grouped into “Polymers of Low Concern” (PLC)(1). The two main PFAS compounds in the rubber industry are Fluoroelastomer CAS# 64706-30-5 and Fluorosilicone CAS# 68952-02-3. Currently, there are over 13,000 CAS# being looked at. PFAS may be bio-accumulative in our environment and potential carcinogens and reproductive toxins. The EPA issued a lifetime drinking water advisory of Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) at 0.004 parts per trillion and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) at 0.02 parts per trillion. Because of these factors, the regulation of PFAS is a problematic task.
3M produces and sells Fluoroelastomer products (FKM and FFKM) under the name Dyneon™. 3M is a major fluorochemical producer and is planning to exit the PFAS market by 2025. This announcement caused a large-scale shakeup in the rubber industry. Many industries depend on FKM polymers, such as automotive, aerospace, power gen, semiconductor, food and medical, and many others. At present, there are no plans for the other major producers like Chemours, Dupont, or Solvay to get out of this market. PFAS could be restricted in Europe by 2025, and the US EPA may limit PFAS in drinking water. As a result of these regulations, new legal challenges could cost millions of dollars to manufacturers that also see the same fate as 3M, causing even more supply chain issues for fluoroelastomer products.
Polymers of Low Concern (PLC)
Fluoropolymers are not PFOA, PFOS, or other long-chain PFAS, nor can they transform into those substances. Many regulations already ban or eliminate the use of PFOA and PFOS. The current risk for the rubber industry is that FKM, FVMQ, and FFKM rubbers will be lumped into the same regulations as other PFAS because of the polymerization of FKM rubber. These larger, stable, and inert polymeric molecules are too large to cross biological membranes and therefore do not present significant concerns. Polymer suppliers have also invested millions of dollars in capturing PFAS in the water discharge process. Many are working on internal targets of 99.9% PFAS capture. (2)
Frequently Asked Questions
Will the 3M production stoppage affect Apple Rubber?
Apple Rubber has surveyed all current vendors and found only one product for one specific customer that uses 3M polymer. We have notified this customer and presented a replacement compound.
Are FKM polymers being discontinued?
There are no current regulations that will prevent the manufacturing of FKM polymers. However, there is potential proposed legislation that is being debated. Many groups have submitted requests for exceptions for Fluoropolymers based on PLC.
How can we assure continued supply?
The primary regulatory bodies have the ability for users to give input on the importance of the continued supply of fluoropolymers. Companies can upload a response to this pending legislation. The EPA has this site for inputs. In addition, input can be given to the EU ECHA here.
How do I stay informed?
Many Fluoropolymer associations can be joined or followed on social media.
Examples are : https://fluoropolymerpartnership.com/pfp/about-pfp/
- Barbara J Henry, Joseph P Carlin, Jon A Hammerschmidt, Robert C Buck, L William Buxton, Heidelore Fiedler, Jennifer Seed, Oscar Hernandez (2017). A critical review of the application of polymer of low concern and regulatory criteria to fluoropolymers Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management — Volume 14, Number 3. https://setac.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ieam.4450
- Daikin Chemicals, Measures concerning environment emission of PFAS,
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