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.

PFAS
The 'forever chemicals'

PFAS: ‘Forever Chemicals’ in our environment

  • PFAS (Per- or Poly-Fluorinated Alkyl Substances) are a group of over 4700 industrial chemicals.
  • Their ability to repel oil and water, lubricate and helps things spread, means they are used in many everyday items, from food packaging, cookware and toiletries, to clothing, carpets and cosmetics [1].
  • PFAS are known as the ‘forever chemicals’ [2] due to their extreme persistence in the environment. Some take over 1,000 years to degrade, allowing concentrations to grow over time [3], [4], [5].
  • Very little is known about the vast majority of these chemicals before they go on the market, but those that have been studied in depth have been linked to major environmental and human health concerns.
  • Fidra are working to end the unnecessary use of PFAS in everyday products.

The problem with PFAS

  • PFAS are persistent; they don’t readily breakdown in the environment. The more we use, the more they build up. Often referred to as the ‘forever chemicals’, some PFAS can remain in the environment for over 1,000 years. The effects of the pollution we cause today will be felt for generations to come.
  • PFAS can bioaccumulate; they build up along food chains. Our bodies, and the bodies of wildlife, get rid of PFAS very slowly. Being exposed to even small amounts of PFAS over a long period of time, could cause concentrations to build up to harmful levels [5].
  • PFAS can be toxic to wildlife: studies have shown that PFAS can harm the immune system, kidney function and liver function of bottlenose dolphins [6], as well as the immune system of otters. While PFAS levels in polar bears are high enough to cause neurological damage, interfering with their hormones systems and disrupting reproduction [7], [8].
  • PFAS can be toxic to humans: there is growing evidence that links PFAS exposure to a wide range of human health concerns, from growth, learning, and behavioural problems, to cancer, immune system disorders, fertility issues and even obesity [9], [10], [11], [12].

What can be done?


Fidra’s asks of YOU:
– Sign our petition asking retailers to remove PFAS from food packaging.
– Help identify sources of PFAS using our simple Bead Test.
– Raise awareness of PFAS by watching and sharing our short video.
– Support companies that offer PFAS-free products using our
   PFAS-free shopping guide.

Fidra’s ask of RETAILERS:
We’re asking UK supermarkets for a commitment to phase-out all PFAS from paper and board food packaging.

Fidra’s ask of GOVERNMENT:
We’re asking the UK Government for comprehensive legislation restricting the use of all PFAS in paper and board food packaging, protecting both our health and environment from the impacts of persistent chemicals.

Fidra’s work

PFAS & Textiles: Stain-resistant school uniforms

Fidra’s PFAS work started in the textile sector, with a focus on stain-resistant treatments in school uniforms. We worked closely with the research and innovation consortium, POPFREE, and carried out our own independent research into how consumers use and value of stain-resistant school uniforms. We found that stain-resistant treatments had no impact on either how often uniforms were washed or how often they were replaced, which meant consumers and the environment weren’t feeling any benefits of these extra chemicals on clothing . With many treatments lasting little more than 20 washes, equivalent to less than one school term, PFAS-based stain-resistance proved both an unnecessary and environmentally damaging solution to a problem that didn’t really exist to the average consumer.  

We were encouraged to see retailers taking this issue seriously and most have now phased out PFAS-based treatments from their school uniform ranges. Full details of our research and a continually updated list of ‘who sells what’ can be found on our PFASfree website. 

PFASs in School Uniforms

PFAS & Food Packaging: Paper and board packaging materials

PFAS is applied to paper and board food packaging to prevent grease and liquids soaking in and weakening the material [13]. This PFAS is also lost to our environment at each stage of the product lifecycle, from manufacture, through use and eventual disposal, regardless of whether packaging is recycled, composted or landfilled [14], [15], [16]. As companies move away from plastic packaging, to materials often considered to be ‘more sustainable’, there is an urgent need to address the chemical composition of these alternatives. It’s vital that in addressing our plastic problem, we do not simply swap the visible pollutant to one that is hidden in the chemical small print.

There is little accessible information about the chemicals in our products. To address this we carried out independent analysis and we found PFAS in packaging from 8 out of 9 major UK supermarkets, and 100% of UK takeaways tested. Full details of our sample selection and research findings are available in our report, ‘Forever Chemicals in the Food Aisle.

We are now working with UK supermarkets, sharing our research and encouraging a phase-out of these harmful chemicals.

We’re also asking the UK public to help us in this work. To get a fuller picture of PFAS-use in food packaging, we’ve designed a simple test that everyone can do from their own homes; all you need is a pencil, an egg cup (or similar), and a few drops of olive oil. Full details of how you can get involved, and how to submit your results are available here. Or simply show your support, help us tell supermarkets that their customers  want PFAS-free products by signing and sharing our online petition.

PFAS Exposure: Dark Waters

At Fidra, we focus on working collaboratively with industry and decision-makers to bring about positive environmental change. However, chemical pollution is often overlooked in environmental discussions, so when we heard that Hollywood actor, Mark Ruffalo, was working on his own solution; the release of his latest film, Dark Waters we were keen to get involved to help turn the public awareness from this film into lasting change.

Dark Waters tells the shocking true story of environmental lawyer, Robert Bilott, who worked tirelessly to uncover details of how US chemical company, DuPont, knowingly released huge quantities of harmful PFAS into local drinking water supplies. PFAS is now thought to pollute the blood of almost 99% of people worldwide [17].  

We worked closely with eOne, ThinkFilm, ChemTrust and others to ensure that the science was communicated accurately and that the asks of policy makers and industry were both realistic and achievable. It was an honour (and a whole lot of fun) to work alongside the brilliant and inspiring people at the heart of this film, and the platform it has created continues to inspire discussion and drive solutions to the PFAS problem.  

References

[1] www.chemtrust.org/pfas/

[2] www.chemtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/PFAS_Brief_CHEMTrust_2019.pdf

[3] Russell, M.H.; Berti, W. R.; Szostek, B.; Buck, R.C., Investigation of the Biodegradation Potential of a Fluoroacrylate Polymer Product in Aerobic Soils. Environmental Science & Technology 2008, 42 (3), 800-807 

[4] Washington, J. W.; Ellington, J. J.; Jenkins, T. M.; Evans, J. J.; Yoo, H.; Hafner, S. C., Degradability of Acrylate-Linked, Flourotelomer Polymer in Soil. Environmental Science & Technology 2009, 43 (17), 6617-6623

[5]  https://chemtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/PFAS_Brief_CHEMTrust_2019.pdf

[6] Fair, P.A. and Houde, M., 2018. Chapter 5 – Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances in Marine Mammals. Marine Mammals Ecotoxicology. Impacts of Multiple Stressors on Population Health. pp. 117-145. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-812144-3.00005-X

[7] Pedersen, K.E., Basu, N., Letcher, R., Greaves, A.K., Sonne, C., Dietz, R. and Styrishave, B., 2015. Brain region-specific perfluoroalkylated sulfonate (PFSA) and carboxylic acid (PFCA) accumulation and neurochemical biomarker responses in east Greenland polar bears (Ursus maritimus). Environmental research, 138, pp.22-31

[8] Butt, C.M., Berger, U., Bossi, R. and Tomy, G.T., 2010. Levels and trends of poly-and perfluorinated compounds in the arctic environment. Science of the total environment408 (15), pp.2936-2965

[9] Liu, G., Dhana, K., Furtado, J.D., Rood, J., Zong, G., Liang, L., Qi, L., Bray, G.A., DeJonge, L., Coull, B. and Grandjean, P., 2018. Perfluoroalkyl substances and changes in body weight and resting metabolic rate in response to weight-loss diets: A prospective study. PLoS medicine15 (2)

[10] Saikat, S., Kreis, I., Davies, B., Bridgman, S. and Kamanyire, R., 2013. The impact of PFOS on health in the general population: a review. Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts15 (2), pp.329-335

[11] Fei, C., McLaughlin, J.K., Tarone, R.E. and Olsen, J., 2007. Perfluorinated chemicals and fetal growth: a study within the Danish National Birth Cohort. Environmental health perspectives115 (11), pp.1677-1682

[12] Melzer, D., Rice, N., Depledge, M.H., Henley, W.E. and Galloway, T.S., 2010. Association between serum perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and thyroid disease in the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Environmental health perspectives118(5), pp.686-692

[13] Rosenmai, A.K., Taxvig, C., Svingen, T., Trier, X., van Vugt‐Lussenburg, B.M.A., Pedersen, M., Lesné, L., Jégou, B. and Vinggaard, A.M., 2016. Fluorinated alkyl substances and technical mixtures used in food paper‐packaging exhibit endocrine‐related activity in vitro. Andrology4 (4), pp.662-672

[14] Hansen, K.J., Johnson, H.O., Eldridge, J.S., Butenhoff, J.L. and Dick, L.A., 2002. Quantitative characterization of trace levels of PFOS and PFOA in the Tennessee River. Environmental Science & Technology36 (8), pp.1681-1685

[15] Trier, X., Taxvig, C., Rosenmai, A.K. and Pedersen, G.A., 2017. PFAS in paper and board for food contact: Options for risk management of poly-and perfluorinated substances

[16] OECD Toward a new comprehensive global database of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs): summary report on updating the OECD 2007 list of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs); 2018

[17] Calafat, A.M., Wong, L.Y., Kuklenyik, Z., Reidy, J.A. and Needham, L.L., 2007. Polyfluoroalkyl chemicals in the US population: data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003–2004 and comparisons with NHANES 1999–2000. Environmental health perspectives115 (11), pp.1596-1602