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.

© Scott Currie

Preventing Chemical Pollution from Everyday Life

Industrial chemicals are essential to our health and everyday life. But chemical pollution is one of the greatest threats to our planet. Chemical production uses vast amounts of fossil fuels, energy, water as well as metals and minerals mined from the earth. The industry is one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters. Not only does this industrial production have environmental impacts but also some of the chemicals themselves are damaging our health, wildlife and the environment. Harmful industrial chemicals are found in products and people, in waste and water, in soils and seas, land and air. Fidra’s mission is to prevent pollution by working with researchers, retailers, policy makers and the public to phase out the most harmful chemicals from all non-essential applications and reduce chemical use.

Health and Environmental Exposure

Harmful chemicals are entering our bodies during the course of our daily lives.  Chemicals of concern from our food, furniture and even some receipts, are getting into adults, children and unborn babies.   We are all exposed to a mix of industrial chemicals some of which are known to cause harm, but most have unknown consequences. Only a tiny percentage of the chemicals used have been properly assessed to see if they are safe, with very little consideration given to environmental impacts and exposure.  Industrial chemicals have reached the most remote regions of the globe and are impacting polar bears, whales and dolphins with devastating effects.  Some of the most toxic chemicals are those which do not breakdown, building up in the environment and in our bodies to worrying levels. These persistent chemicals, such as PFAS and flame retardants, are used on sandwich boxes, sofas and saucepans.

A Chemical Awakening

Fidra is working to prevent pollution and reduce the environmental burden of chemicals. Our vision is a world with clean air and seas, and safer products which can be reused and recycled without fear of contaminating products or the environment.  Our work is:

  • Delivering projects with retailers, industry and the public to ensure chemicals are used sustainably.
  • Developing policy to prevent pollution.

We are working with the media, film companies, and NGOs to foster a chemical awakening and we are developing ways people can take action on the chemicals in their everyday lives. We are developing principles to prevent pollution for policy makers, manufacturers and retailers. We are calling for effective legislation, enforcement and better understanding of chemicals and their impacts.  Our chemical pollution prevention programme is reducing the use of unnecessary chemicals, minimising the environmental impact of industrial chemicals and addressing a number of chemicals of concern. Our projects include eliminating the use of persistent PFAS  in school uniforms and food packaging; phasing out bisphenols which can interfere with hormones from receipts; and calling for better legislation and alternatives to harmful chemical flame retardants.

By reducing our chemical footprint we can cut emissions, reduce resource consumption, use less energy and make products safer and easier to reuse and recycle within a circular economy, creating a healthier environment for all.

Our Principles

  • Ending unnecessary use of chemicals: All producers, manufacturers, retailers and consumers need to identify and undertake measures to reduce non-essential chemical usage. Voluntary efforts must, in turn, be supported by underlying regulatory principles that prevent the use of chemicals of environmental concern for all non-essential functions.
  • Proceed with precaution: The precautionary principle must be applied when considering the use and restriction of chemicals. To implement the precautionary principle, we advocate a chemical class-based approach. Restrictions limiting the use of known chemical hazards or chemicals of emerging concern should extend to include similar compounds within the relevant chemical class, unless the safety of these chemical analogues can be demonstrated.
  • Supply chain transparency: Full materials disclosures are essential to enable the identification of known hazards at all levels within the value chain and will allow supply chains to react efficiently to newly identified hazards, substances of concern and legislative changes.
  • Access to information: Transparency and accessibility of data for all users will ensure safe use, reuse and recycling within a circular economy and enable informed decision-making at all levels from primary sale to end-of-life disposal.
  • Assess chemicals: Thorough and regular assessment of the emerging evidence base is needed to ensure consumer and environmental safety is maintained.
  • Enforcement: Strict enforcement with regular checks and prohibitive penalties for noncompliance, should be applied across all stages of the supply chain.
  • Chemical justice: Those impacted by chemical pollution must be considered and represented in chemicals governance and decision making. Routes to influence must be established for those impacted by chemicals pollution, informing legislation and industry practices.
  • Who pays: In line with the polluter pays principle, the economic model should be such that the full financial burden of disposal, management and clean-up is borne by the producers and suppliers of chemicals and products containing chemicals, not the public.
  • Strong evidence base: Research and long-term monitoring are essential in providing policy, industry and society with the knowledge, predictive understanding and tools necessary to ensure safe use of existing chemicals and the early identification of emerging contaminants.
  • Chemicals for a circular economy: Chemicals must be safe in use and reuse in secondary materials. Where this is not possible, they must be easy to remove and treat from waste streams. Information on chemicals in products, their potential exposure routes and impacts is essential to support safe and appropriate use, reuse and recycling in circular economy.