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.

© 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:

  • Empowering people to prevent pollution
  • Developing policy to prevent pollution
  • Ensuring retailers and industry use chemicals sustainably.

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.