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Meeting Performance Needs and Sustainability Goals with FluoroTechnology

Jessica  Bowman

You may have heard of PFOA or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), but you may not know the benefits they provide to the architectural coatings industry, or more importantly, that all PFASs or FluoroTechnology products are not the same.

FluoroTechnology is the use of fluorine chemistry to create any fluorinated product, including fluoropolymer and fluorotelomer-based products. FluoroTechnology products have unique properties and attributes that make them substantially different from other chemistries. The stability of the carbonfluorine bond makes FluoroTechnology, such as fluoropolymers, a powerful tool for providing strength, resilience and durability to a variety of industrial and commercial coatings and paints, such as those used in skylights, signage, windows, wall systems, roofing panels, bridges and stadiums.

Architectural coatings incorporate fluoropolymers in multiple ways. For example, architectural coatings using fluoropolymers like polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) are factory applied to metal to provide outstanding color and gloss retention, chalk resistance, and corrosion and abrasion resistance. PVDF coatings applied to metal windows, doors, sunscreens, roofing panels and industrial wall panel systems provide weatherability, long-term durability and mold/mildew resistance.

PVDF and fluoroethylene vinyl ether (FEVE) fluoropolymers employed in architectural coatings field applied to metal provide superior color and gloss retention and resistance to graffiti, chemicals and abrasion. Such coatings can be applied to metal on stadiums, commercial buildings, water tanks, sports complexes, bridges, marine applications and water tanks.

Some critiques of PFASs have relied solely on the fact that these substances persist in the environment, a feature that is often closely related to their technological strengths as durable materials. Their durability is exactly what makes them so valuable to your industry. But, just because they are valuable, does not mean that we cannot make them better.

Critics have also argued that we do not need high-performance materials in their products-but we argue that bridge coatings need to be able to withstand weather corrosion, and that long-term durability is needed for performance and sustainability. Importantly, our industry has balanced performance needs with stewardship objectives to innovate, develop and test a new generation of FluoroTechnology products that provide these crucial benefits, but with improved environmental and health profiles compared to their predecessors.

PFOA and related "long-chain" PFASs were historically used as polymerization aids to manufacture certain fluoropolymers. Long-chain PFASs have been under significant global regulatory and environmentalist pressure. Regulations and market commitments to restrict or ban the manufacture, use and sale of long-chain PFASs are in place or proposed globally, including in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

In response to concerns that arose regarding PFOA and related long-chains over a decade ago, members of the FluoroCouncil and other industry leaders voluntarily committed to globally phasing out these substances by virtually eliminating them from product content and facility emissions by the end of 2015 through the U.S. EPA 2010/15 PFOA Stewardship Program. The Stewardship Program has resulted in dramatic reductions in PFOA and other long-chain substances in environmental emissions from manufacturing and products, leading to reductions of measurable levels of PFOA in the environment and in living systems. This was achieved well ahead of current regulatory measures.

Unfortunately, not all companies in the FluoroTechnology business have made the same commitments. Production and use of PFOA in the manufacture of fluoropolymers continues by companies outside of the U.S., Europe and Japan, without commitments to address product content or facility emissions. These activities could undermine the success of the Stewardship Program by continuing to introduce PFOA to the environment.

As part of its stewardship commitments, the FluoroCouncil and its member companies have worked with regulators and other stakeholders in support of a global transition away from PFOA and related long-chain substances. The FluoroCouncil members have developed alternative polymerization aids that allow for the production of fluoropolymers that provide the same performance properties, with improved health and environmental profiles. For the past several years, the member companies of the FluoroCouncil have been engaged in an ambitious program to develop robust scientific data on these alternative products.

It is important for the architectural coatings industry to understand the source of the fluoropolymers used in its products and the potential global environmental impacts of using fluoropolymers produced using PFOA and other long-chain substances.

As an industry, we value innovation and sustainable materials-as much as we value the high-performance capabilities of our products. The architectural coatings industry should feel secure that these alternatives have been reviewed and approved by EPA and other regulators globally, and can be safely used in a wide variety of consumer and industrial products.

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Jessica S. Bowman is the executive director of the global FluoroCouncil, which represents leading companies that manufacture, formulate or process FluoroTechnology products and promotes the sustainability of those products. For more information about the FluoroCouncil, visit www.fluorocouncil.org.