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.

Preventing Chemical Pollution

Chemical pollution touches everything, changing the foundation on which our ecosystems function, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the crops we eat. It is this inescapable and intrinsic link across all aspects of life that makes chemical pollution relevant to so many of the global challenges we now face.

There are many chemicals that vastly improve our society, and that are used in essential and life-saving functions all across the world. Chemical innovation can improve our health, help us combat the climate crisis, produce green energy and sustainable supply chains. But, many chemicals have the potential to cause serious harm, and we must be able to rely on stringent chemical management systems to protect us from this.

Where are we now?

  • All monitored rivers and lakes in England are polluted and the number of water pollution incidents is rising (almost 7,600 in 2019)1Bevan J. The state of our waters: the facts. Environment Agency; 2020.
  • Wildlife populations in the UK and abroad are being devastated by the dual threats of climate and the toxic chemicals that are now part of our everyday life2Malaj E, von der Ohe PC, Grote M, et al. Organic chemicals jeopardize the health of freshwater ecosystems on the continental scale. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2014;111(26):9549. doi:10.1073/pnas.1321082111.
  • In 2019, 75% of chemicals produced across the EU were classified as hazardous to health and/or the environment3Chemsec. ECHA’s 5-year review paints dark picture – but there is hope. 2021. https://chemsec.org/echas-5-year-review-paints-dark-picture-but-there-is-hope/.
  • 18% of consumer products in the EU contain illegal amounts of restricted chemicals, with 20% of children’s toys containing banned phthalates4European Chemicals Agency. Report on the Operation of REACH and CLP 2021..
  • Global chemical production has increased fifty-fold since 1950 and is set to treble again by 20505Eurostat. http://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/submitViewTableAction.do.

Chemical pollution is fuelling biodiversity loss

Wildlife

Chemical pollution adds additional burden to populations already under threat from climate and land-use change. Legacy chemicals such as PCBs continue to disrupt Orca reproduction 30 years after global restrictions were introduced, while many common pesticides continue to disrupt UK insect populations6Fidra (2021) Opportunities for pollution prevention:
long-term goals and quick wins. https://www.fidra.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Fidra-Position-Paper_Chemicals-Strategy.pdf
.

Chemical pollution is impacting our health

Health

Chemical pollution in our homes, communities and workplaces cause approximately 1.3 million global deaths every year from diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and cancers. It also exacerbates societal inequalities, with women more exposed to hazardous chemicals than men, poorer countries more than rich, and infants and young children particularly sensitive to chemical exposure7Prüss-Üstün A. Preventing disease through healthy environments : a global assessment of the burden of disease from environmental risks / A Prüss-Ustün, J Wolf, C Corvalán, R Bos and M Neira. World Health Organization; 2016..

Climate change and chemical pollution are intrinsically linked

Climate

Despite major reductions in direct energy use over the last 30 years, the chemical industry remains a major contributor to UK carbon emissions. Chemical exposure can reduce nature’s resilience to the climate crisis through the impact of multiple stressors, while climate change can also impact the sensitivity and susceptibility of organisms to chemical exposures8Fidra (2021) Opportunities for pollution prevention:
long-term goals and quick wins. https://www.fidra.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Fidra-Position-Paper_Chemicals-Strategy.pdf
.

Hazardous chemicals are a barrier to the circular economy

Circular Economy

Harmful chemicals create a barrier to the circular economy by limiting the reuse capacity of products, creating a chemical exposure risk for workers in the recycling sector and undermining confidence in the safety of secondary materials. Without adequate information on product chemical content, we simply do not know what is safe to reuse and what is not.

What is Fidra doing?

Fidra works on a number of specific projects which address chemical pollution. These include:

  • PFAS, the Forever Chemicals: Fidra are working with UK supermarkets and food packaging suppliers to encourage a voluntary phase-out of PFAS from food packaging. We’re also working at policy level advocating urgent legislation to remove PFAS from food packaging and encouraging a commitment to end all non-essential uses of PFAS within the UK chemical strategy.
  • Bisphenols, the Everywhere Chemicals: Fidra are working with the UK retail sector to encourage a voluntary phase-out of all bisphenols from till receipts. We’re also encouraging the Scottish Government to implement group-based legislation on bisphenols in till receipts as part of the developing Circular Economy Bill.
  • Flame retardants and chemical transparency: Fidra are advocating for fire safety through product design, minimising the requirement for chemical flame retardants. We are also working closely with research and industry, developing a case study for smart labelling that will ensure transparency in chemical use along supply chains.
  • Chemical use in aquaculture: Fidra are working closely with the aquaculture industry and policy-makers to improve chemical transparency, tracebility and enforcement, minimising the environmental impact of chemical use in Scottish salmon farming.

Fidra are also interested in wider chemical policy, ensuring a Scottish and UK framework for safe and effective chemical management that minimises the impact of chemical pollution on the environment.

We are members of the UK Chemical Stakeholder Forum, the Scottish Chemical Policy Network and the UK NGO Working Group on Hazardous Chemicals.

What are we asking others to do?

Fidra’s asks of YOU

 

Fidra’s asks of companies

  • Communicate chemical content; ask questions of your supply chain and provide information to your customers.
  • Develop and publish transparent chemical policies.
  • Phase out hazardous chemical groups from your supply chains, making sure your packaging is PFAS-free and your till receipts are bisphenol-free.

 

Fidra’s asks of the GOVERNMENT

The UK Chemical Strategy

What is it and why is it so important?

From the moment we wake up on our flame resistant mattress, throw off our easy iron bed sheets and fry up some eggs in our non-stick pans, to the time we wash off the days grim with our antimicrobial facewash and climb back into bed, we’re in contact with industrial chemicals. Many of these chemicals makes our lives safer and healthier, but when the wrong chemical gets in the wrong place, then it’s a problem. It’s a problem for wildlife, for the environment, for our health and for our economy.

The current state of our health and environment shows that we’ve not been doing a great job of managing chemicals so far. The UK Chemical Strategy is our roadmap out of this chemical pollution crisis. It will set out the Government’s long-term vision for UK chemical policy, defining whether we accept the status quo or set ambitious targets that will improve our health and environment, create the foundation for a effective circular economy and drive innovation towards greener, more sustainable technologies.

The UK Government are developing the chemical strategy right now! This is our opportunity to tell them the future that we want to see:

  • a non-toxic environment that is fighting fit to adapt to the challenges of the climate crisis;
  • wildlife thriving in our countryside and cities, pollinating our crops and bringing the riches of biodiversity to every community;
  • waters free from harmful chemicals, supporting abundant life, clean drinking water, health and wellbeing; and
  • a strong and sustainable circular economy.

Further Reading

Opportunities for pollution prevention: long-term goals and quick wins

This position paper puts forward our case for an ambitious UK chemical strategy, describing key principles and policy actions Fidra believe will move the UK towards sustainable societies and healthy ecosystems.

Uploaded: 15th September 2021

Download Summary Document     Download Full Version

Principles for Sound Chemical Management

This document describes the guiding principles Fidra have developed to ensure safe and effective chemical policy that protects both human health and the environment.

Uploaded: 15th September 2021

Download PDF here

12 Key Asks for the UK Chemicals Strategy

Fidra have joined with 26 other health and environmental NGOs in putting together 12 Key Asks for the UK’s Chemical Strategy, aimed at ensuring health and environmental protections are put at the forefront of decision making.

Uploaded: 11th May 2021

View full document here    Read Fidra’s Summary Blog here