PFAS-coated clothes that are thrown away will often end up either incinerated or in landfill. Unless incinerated at very high temperatures (>1000oC), fluorinated polymers could release more harmful PFAS during burning. PFAS of environmental concern have also been found in landfill leachate. PFAS is found in treated waste water from industrial and domestic sources and has been found in both rivers and groundwater. Conventional drinking water processes will not remove PFAS.Small quantities of PFAS will be removed during wash and wear of products containing PFAS. This includes fluorinated polymers used on stain-resistant coatings, and non-polymers that remain on clothes after production (Lassen et al. 2015).Non-polymer PFAS can build up in blood protein of animals, and is not always removed quickly. This means that predators eating PFAS-contaminated food will have higher levels in their bloodstream, and concentrations can increase up the food chain. Studies suggest that build up of PFAS is similar to those of other Persistent Organic Pollutants such as DDT.PFAS are estimated to be settling in arctic regions at rates of tens to hundreds of kilograms per year (25-850kg per year), depending on the specific PFAS chemical in question. Certain PFAS are released as gases to the environment and are blown a long way by wind and air currents in the atmosphere,. These gas PFAS will over time degrade to more persistent chemicals like PFOS and PFOA. This may be one reason why PFAS of environmental concern have been found in remote regions such as the Arctic as well as near PFAS production sitesPFAS including PFOS and PFOA have been found in air samples around Europe. The chemicals are found in small quantities, but appear in almost all samples tested. PFAS enters the atmosphere both from factories and the air inside our homes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17554424 Non-polymer PFAS are used in the production of fluorinated polymers. The manufacture of stain-resistant finishes generally releases these PFASs into the environment, both by air and water emissions. They are very hard to remove during water treatment. Workers in textiles factories are some of the population most exposed to these potentially harmful chemicals.

Reshaping our chemical future

Right now the UK Government is deciding the state of our chemical future, designing a post-Brexit Chemicals Strategy that if done well, could act as a road map out of our current chemical pollution crisis. By setting ambitious targets and committing to clear and time-lined actions, the UK has a unique opportunity to turn the tide on environmental pollution.

But, done badly, we allow harmful chemicals to continue to pervade our lives, damage our ecosystems and…actually, let’s not think about that right now… this is an amazing opportunity, let’s focus on that! By getting this right, we can set a global standard here in the UK for others to follow, this is our chance and we must stand up and take it.

We are all aware of the climate crisis, with it’s iconic youth leaders raising awareness and challenging politicians to take action. We see biodiversity loss and more importantly, we feel it, with an entire plastic revolution inspired by our emotional connection to a grieving pilot whale. And yet, chemical pollution continues to seep through our lives and our environment with little recognition.

Right now is our opportunity to change that, to tell the Government we want a toxic-free future and a chemical strategy that puts health and environmental protections at its heart.

12 Key Asks for UK Chemicals Strategy

12 key asks for a toxic-free future

Fidra have joined with 26 other health and environmental NGOs in putting together 12 Key Asks for the UK’s Chemical Strategy. We strongly believe that these asks are fundamental to ensuring health and environmental protections are put at the forefront of decision making.

Our 12 Key Asks for the UK Chemicals Strategy are summarised below, or click here to view and freely download the full document and signatory list.

  1. Prioritising prevention and precaution – taking action early to prevent harm.
  2. Phase out the most hazardous chemicals from consumer products, for all non-essential uses – there are some chemicals that should simply not be in our everyday products.
  3. Protect UK citizens and the environment from endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) – the harmful impacts of EDCs are well documented and they must be avoided.
  4. Phase out the use of PFAS and other very persistent chemicals – learn from past mistakes, if a chemical does not break down in the environment, we must treat it with an even greater level of caution.
  5. Speed up regulation of harmful chemicals and avoid regrettable substitution by adopting a grouping approach – we cannot effectively manage chemicals one at a time, there are simply too many.
  6. Address the ‘cocktail effect’ – we are continually exposed to a diverse range of chemicals and we must consider how these work in combination.
  7. Maintain and expand on workers’ health and safety – this includes recognition of the disproportionate impact of endocrine disruptors on women’s reproductive health.
  8. Ensure a clean circular economy with products that are safe by design – we must prevent harmful chemicals creating a barrier to product reuse and recycling.
  9. Develop an effective monitoring and alert system – we must ensure emerging contaminants are identified and their impact mitigated as soon as possible.
  10. Stop the continued accumulation of legacy chemicals in the environment – take action on stocks and contamination from chemicals that are already banned.
  11. Remain aligned with the world-leading chemical regulation EU REACH – close partnership ensures knowledge and data sharing, and reduces the burden on industry.
  12. Ensure more transparency and use of all relevant science for assessing health risks – make sure we use the best and most recent scientific research to assess chemical risk effectively.

 

What can you do?

Help us share this message and start an important conversation about chemical pollution, because this affects us all! It impacts our seas, our beaches, our air and every iconic wildlife species we fight so hard to protect, so whatever your passion, now is not the time to look away.

If you support or are involved with a UK charity or NGO, why not send them this blog and encourage them to add their name to these 12 Key Asks. And if you are an NGO that wants to find out more or add your support, email us at info@fidra.org.uk.

Dr Kerry Dinsmore

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