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Stefan Brupbacher, Director Swissmem

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Stefan Brupbacher, Director Swissmem

Comprehensive regulation of PFAS threatens the Swiss tech industry


Rarely have EU bureaucrats squandered so much credibility in such a short space of time: The planned PFAS ban threatens to sideline Europe's industry in cutting-edge manufacturing and environmental technology applications. Switzerland must use its room for manoeuvre, wait and see, regulate on a risk basis and invest in research into new materials.

Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl compounds (PFAS) or "eternity chemicals" are extremely resistant to acid, large temperature differences or friction, and their application is extremely versatile - from Teflon coatings for frying pans to pumps for high-purity liquids in the semiconductor industry, PFAS are indispensable.

Of the up to 10,000 theoretically existing PFAS, several hundred are on the market. Many relationships to PFAS are still poorly researched. In many cases, it is still unclear how the individual substances enter the environment and what their long-term effects are. In industry, PFAS are also often used in closed applications that pose no risk to humans or the environment.

General bans far removed from reality
Nevertheless, environmental lobbyists and EU bureaucrats want to impose a general ban on the entire group due to the potential damage caused by individual PFAS. This is because anything that could be dangerous must be banned as a preventative measure without considering the actual risk and identifying its source. As PFAS decompose very slowly and some are mobile, it is feared that they will accumulate in the environment and in the human body and cause damage there.

However, general bans are far removed from any industrial reality. They would also mean that the European industry would no longer be able to fulfil the increasingly extreme requirements placed on materials and machines. Compared to Asian and American competitors, the local industry would be gagged by regulation, while competitors would probably just not declare the use of PFAS.

PFAS regulation slows down innovation
The excessive energy prices over the years have already led to an exodus of basic chemicals from Europe. The regulation of PFAS has similar potential in areas such as semiconductors, the manufacturing industry and green technologies, which the same EU wants to promote with billions in subsidies...

But complaints alone are not enough. Swissmem is involved: through our European associations, where we have, for example, highlighted the problem with EU Commissioner Breton together with Orgalim. The fact that there will certainly be exceptions is pleasing, but the announcement of tough regulation has already further reduced the appetite for investment in Europe and eroded the credibility of the regulatory environment. Hopefully the new EU bodies will listen more to the industry!

No hasty Swiss regulation
In Switzerland, regulatory freedom should be utilised as far as possible. EU law must not and should not be adopted automatically or in advance. This would also not change with the Bilateral Agreements III. Although Swiss companies must comply with EU regulations for products when exporting to the EU, this does not apply to exports to other markets or to production technologies here at home. It also remains to be seen what the EU regulation will actually look like, what the transition periods will be and how it will be implemented.

Equally important are investments in the search for new materials, e.g. also utilising quantum technology. If the EU (over)regulates and Switzerland conducts research, we are making the best possible contribution to securing Switzerland - and Europe - as a centre of production and technology in the long term.


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