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. 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.

MPs highlight risks from ‘toxic chemicals in everyday life’ in new report

A new report, published today by the UK Parliament’s Environment Audit Committee (EAC), accuses the Government of stalling on action to reduce exposure to toxic chemicalsThe EAC report summarises findings from experwitnesses, including written evidence from Fidra, as part of the inquiry into Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life.  Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, MP Mary Creagh explains  ‘most people assume that they aren’t at risk from toxic chemicals, but the reality is different’.  

Risks to people and wildlife

The UN estimates that 27 percent of total global ecosystem loss was due to chemical pollution.  With an estimated 9 million premature deaths worldwide attributable to pollution in 2015 according to the Lancet Commission. The EAC report found foetuses, children and pregnant women as being most at risk from the adverse effects of toxic chemicals. It also cites Fidra’s evidence that workers can be exposed to particular chemical groups of concern, with firefighters at greater risk from some carcinogenic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and flame retardants, and cashiers at risk from hormone disrupting bisphenols used in till receipts 

Flame retardants under scrutiny

The inquiry highlighted the UK’s heavy reliance on chemical flame retardants in furniture, with the UK and US having the highest concentrations of banned flame retardants in breast milk.  A key barrier to change and innovation within the UK furniture market is the outdated testing methods required to meet current national fire safety standards for furniture and furnishings. The heavily criticised ‘match test’, which forms a key component of the legislation, requires furnishing fabrics to be tested over a form of combustible foam that is no longer used in domestic furniture. As Fidra wrote in their inquiry evidence, ‘the current tests are not fit for purpose and do not reflect the materials used in modern furniture, nor account for real-life construction of furniture’. The inquiry heard evidence that to meet the current tests, significant quantities of chemical flame retardants are being applied to furniture, ignoring both the health and environmental concerns around having these chemicals in our homes, and the toxic fumes they produce during fires.

A review of the legislation began in 2009 yet regulations are still to be updated. In 2014 changes that had the potential to reduce flame retardants by up to 50% were delayed and a further consultation held in 2016, the results of which are yet to be made public. 

Chair of the Environmental Audit committee, MP Mary Creagh explains 

“Chemical flame retardants are still being widely used in our furnishings from children’s mattresses to sofas. Meanwhile the Government is sitting on its hands instead of changing regulations to ensure that the most toxic chemicals are taken out of use’’ 

The EAC has called for BEIS to publish to responses to the latest 2016 review by the 24 July or be viewed as “deliberately delaying” the process. 

The full report can be viewed here (pdf)  

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