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.

Fidra's Blog
© Scott Currie

What’s COVID got to do with it? Salmon, chemicals & single-use packaging.

The coronavirus pandemic has made for a year of continuous change. It has changed the way we work, the way we interact and the way we perceive a ‘normal’ everyday life. But what has it done to our perception of another global crisis; our race to protect the planet?

The devastating impacts coronavirus is having on health and livelihoods worldwide are rightly demanding the attention of everyone, from policy makers to retailers and of course the public. At Fidra, we’ve adapted our plans to accommodate this as we deliver solutions to environmental challenges. With our work spanning chemical and plastic pollution, to sustainable salmon farming, one way or another, Covid-19 has left its mark on each of our projects. 

Obsolete receipts

Without us intending it, our COVID-conscious behaviour may be helping to reduce one source of chemical pollution to the environment, bisphenol covered receipts.

Bisphenols are a group of chemicals commonly used as a coating on paper tickets and receipts. Exposure to bisphenols has been linked to hormonal disruption in both humans and wildlife, resulting in significant and long-lasting health effects [1]. But in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, is there another reason for us to refuse our receipts?

When all unnecessary contact is to be avoided, has taking our receipts become another risk we’re not willing to take? And why would we? Modern technology allows us to make payments with the wave of a card or a phone, and for us to have digital invoices sent straight to our email accounts. No mess. No fuss.

In fact, some restaurants, pubs and cafes are going one step further to meet the need for contactless transactions and are encouraging customers to order and pay via company-specific apps. One major restaurant chain told Fidra that, in the wake of lockdown, printed receipts have reduced by around 85% due to app-based orders. Given the financial saving for retailers, reduction in paper waste and reduced exposure of both people and the environment to harmful chemicals, could this be one change worth holding on to?

For more on bisphenols, visit: https://www.fidra.org.uk/projects/bisphenols/

 

A new excuse for single-use.

One perhaps more obvious symptom of these last 7 months, has been a resurgence of single-use packaging.

With restaurants and cafes closed throughout lockdown, and many still with their doors only partially open, the demand for home deliveries has inevitably rocketed. In the first half of 2020, the takeaway food group, Just Eat, saw a 32% increase in orders compared with the first half of 2019 [2].  And with it has come a plethora of single-use waste, including food containers, drinks bottles, cutlery, sauce packets and all manner of other disposable accompaniments.

Even throughout reopening, many cafes are turning personal flasks and coffee cups away following confusion around the risks of single-use versus reusable containers. Pubs are serving pints in disposable cups, and some shops have even waivered plastic bag charges to speed up deliveries and reduce contamination risk [3]. In response, over 100 scientists from 18 countries signed a joined letter outlining the evidence to show that ‘reusable systems can be used safely by employing basic hygiene’ [4].

The pandemic also delayed the introduction of the ban on single-use plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers in England. Due in April 2020, the ban was eventually introduced earlier this month. Although, with some calling for a push back of the ban unto 2022, a total delay of just 6 months has been seen as an overall victory in the battle against single-use.

For more on packaging, visit: https://www.fidra.org.uk/projects/food-packaging/

 

Future-proof policies to remove health and environmental burdens

Now more than ever we are being encouraged to take better care of our personal health and the health of the environment, recognising with a renewed appreciation, the intrinsic link between the two. And the good news is, we’re starting to see this translate into ambitious policy commitments.

Earlier this month, the European Commission released the EU’s Chemicals Strategy; a document that sets out the EU’s plans to achieve a toxic-free environment as a part of the European Green Deal [5]. The strategy outlines the EU’s commitment to remove the most harmful chemicals from all but essential use. This includes PFAS, the forever chemicals.

PFAS can be found in a multitude of everyday items, such as cookware, carpets, clothing, cosmetics and even food packaging. This family of over 4,700 industrial chemicals are extremely persistent, mobile, and have the ability to accumulate up food chains and in our bodies [6]. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to health impacts including learning and behavioural disabilities, certain cancers, fertility issues and a reduced effectiveness of vaccinations [7].

With the UK Chemicals Strategy also underway, there could be no better time for the UK to take its own stand on PFAS, banning all but essential applications and ensuring that people and planet are at the centre of future policy.

For more on PFAS, visit: https://www.pfasfree.org.uk/

 

Relaxed Regulations

If you have been trying to embrace a healthier lifestyle, then you may have found Scottish salmon creeping onto your shopping list. And by now, I’m sure you’re thinking, ‘surely coronavirus hasn’t got anything do to with salmon supplies has it?!’. In short, it has.

Following the coronavirus outbreak, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) have relaxed some regulations for Scottish salmon farms [8]. Essentially, SEPA will not treat non-compliance as non-compliance, if salmon farms can show that their slump in standards is a consequence of Covid-19.

One of the most pressing concerns for the industry as a result of coronavirus is a lack of staff available to undertake the salmon harvests; this is seasonal work and usually involves employment of staff from overseas. Reduced harvests mean salmon will spend longer in pens, growing larger than usually allowed and thus, having the potential to breach stock-density restrictions (space allowance given for any one fish). Reduced staff could also lead to shorter fallow periods, where pens are emptied to allow time for the surrounding habitat to recover from the impacts of salmon farming.

With larger salmon in pens for longer, the loch and seabeds below would be left vulnerable to increased volumes of faeces, food waste and medical treatments gathering beneath the pens; a concoction capable of suffocating the surrounding environment on which so many other species depend.  Impacts of salmon farming are routinely monitored via benthic surveys. Fidra will be paying special attention to the results that follow this period of eased regulations and will work to mitigate any negative impacts on Scotland’s waters.

For more on sustainable salmon farming, visit: https://www.bestfishes.org.uk/

 

There is no doubt that this is a time of unprecedented challenge and uncertainty, but behind the scenes, work is ongoing to address our interrelated health and environmental crises. As and when we begin to recover from this world-changing pandemic, we have a chance to embrace a green recovery, a chance to refocus and rebuild a new normal with people and planet at its heart. We have proven we are capable of immediate and substantial societal change when a crisis is identified and now, we need to give the same attention to a crisis that has been building around us for decades.

To learn more about Fidra’s work, visit: https://www.fidra.org.uk/

 

References:

[1] ‘From BPA to BPZ: a toxic soup?’, CHEM Trust, 2018

[2] The Grocer. Lockdown order surge underpins Just Eat Takeaway.com global sales jump. August, 2020

[3] Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Carrier bags: why there’s a charge. March, 2020

[4] Health Expert Statement Addressing Safety of Reusables and COVID-19. 2020

[5] European Commission. Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability Towards a Toxic-Free Environment. October, 2020

[6] CHEMTrust. PFAS – the ‘Forever Chemicals’. 2018

[7] EFSA. Scientific Opinion: Risk to human health related to the presence of perfluoroalkyl substances in food. July, 2020

[8] SEPA. Temporary regulatory position statement response to Covid-19. May, 2020

 

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