Reducing PFAS use, increasing semiconductor production, at odds

Efforts to reduce or eliminate use of toxic, manmade “forever chemicals” are running contrary to efforts by Ohio and local officials to court an industry that is a major user: semiconductor chip manufacturers.

Intel last year announced a $20 billion plan to roll out semiconductor production sites roughly 90 minutes away from Dayton. This project has been called Ohio’s largest private sector investment.

The technology company is a member of the Semiconductor Industry Association, which has called for exemptions to total forever chemical bans.

Semiconductor manufacturers say PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are an integral part of their process.

PFAS are very difficult to break down due to their chemical composition, which consists of strong bonds of fluorine and carbon atoms. These chemicals are heat-resistant and have unique solubility characteristics, which are crucial in the production of coatings put onto microchips, according to The Semiconductor Industry Association.

The association said the government should support research on “environmentally sound alternatives to PFAS,” as well as detection and treatment technologies.

“Given the critical role of semiconductors for our economy and national security, it is important that policymakers avoid unduly restricting current semiconductor operations or future innovation,” according to the Semiconductor Industry Association. “Broad restrictions on PFAS as a class should provide critical use exemptions for the uses of fluorinated chemicals in the semiconductor industry and provide sufficient time for the industry and its suppliers to identify and qualify potential substitutes.”

The government touted its investment in semiconductor technology through the $53 billion CHIPS and Science Act, which aims to grow microchip development in the U.S. President Joe Biden touted the CHIPS Act at the groundbreaking of the Intel plant last year.

Part of that federal investment should go toward finding alternatives to PFAS that protect Americans, said Gretchen Lee Salter, strategic advisor for Safer States. Safer States is an organization that tracks how state governments handle environmental and health issues.

“The world becomes more electrified, but we shouldn’t use that as an excuse to just go ahead and keep using toxic chemicals,” Salter said. “Whatever we need to do to find those alternatives, it should be done.”

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