The consequences of a bill in Congress will make you want to buy a new phone and laptop, provided that inflation leaves you with enough disposable income to do that.
While Americans are dealing with the effects of record-high gas prices, Democrats in Congress are suggesting the so-called PFAS Action Act, which would declare perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances as hazardous chemicals. This legislation would open the gates for a ban on a large set of substances needed to produce everything from consumer electronics and vital medical equipment.
In an effort to preserve clean drinking water and protect consumer health, Democrats (and a handful of Republican co-sponsors of the bill) are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. PFAS, according to the CDC, englobes over 9,000 chemicals, which all have varying uses and severity.
Lawmakers in Washington are relying on cases of malpractice, when companies violated their duty to protect local communities by failing to ensure safe use, transport and disposal, to pull the rug out from this large set of substances.
Ultimately, why care? No citizen likes the idea of potentially toxic chemicals being in use at all, so why not just endorse this piece of legislation?
In fact, while within the set of 9,000 chemicals, some of them may very well need phasing out, others are essential to key American industries.
For instance, these chemicals are vital for the production of semiconductors, predominantly the use of coolant, and a ban would worsen the already existing chip shortage, which affects anything from mobile phones to electric cars. Computer chip shortages cost the U.S. economy $240 billion in 2021.
That said, waiting another six months for your electric vehicle or stomaching a significant price increase on your latest smartphone is just the tip of the iceberg. While regulators in the United States or Europe may decide to ban PFAS, manufacturers are unlikely to follow suit.
In fact, Beijing is famously less concerned than Western nations when it comes to chemical regulation, and would be more than happy to rake up the market shares made available by destructive environmental restrictions.
What message is Congress sending to American companies by considering this bill? Intel has announced it will spend $20 billion on a chip factory in Ohio, to stop the increasingly endemic lack of semiconductors. Presumably, Washington is thanking them by stripping the company of the tools to manufacture components and outsourcing the task to producers abroad.
When dealing with consumer goods, we should prefer that they are made with a transparent and reasonable regulatory framework that punishes wrongdoing to the full extent of the law, instead of relying on imports from nations that do not share our vision of safe manufacturing.
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