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.

Scotland launches its Environment Strategy

The Scottish Government this week published The Environment Strategy for Scotland[i], which Fidra contributed to in its development and now welcomes its publication.

In particular we welcome the acknowledgement that there is a need to ‘ensure that our policy and regulatory framework is robust’, that Scotland ‘must play its full part in tackling the twin global crises of climate and nature’ and ‘will seek to maintain or exceed EU environmental standards’.

In order to achieve these and its overall vision, the Scottish Government aims to deliver the following six outcomes as outlined in the Environment Strategy:

  • ‘Scotland’s nature is protected and restored with flourishing biodiversity and clean and healthy air, water, sea and soils;
  • We play our full role in tackling the global climate emergency and limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C;
  • We use and re-use resources wisely and have ended the throw-away culture:
  • Our thriving, sustainable economy conserves and grows our natural assets;
  • Our healthy environment supports a fairer, healthier, more inclusive society;
  • We are responsible global citizens with a sustainable international footprint.’

Time for targets

Fidra applaud the commitment of the first three out comes to protect and restore Scotland’s nature, end Scotland’s contribution to climate change with net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, and embed circular economy throughout Scotland to end the throw-away culture.

To be truly effective, the delivery of this commitment will require legally binding targets for nature recovery and a detailed action plan for delivery. Fidra would recommend that Scottish Government develop and implement measurable targets for environmental issues such as chemical pollution, waste and plastic pollution. Scottish legislation needs to outline the steps needed across a range of interconnected environmental issues to limit global temperature rise (as indicated in the Government’s CO2 targets), reduce unnecessary chemical use, drive management of waste up the waste hierarchy, and increase resource efficiency.

We equally welcome the remaining three outcomes to conserve and increase the quality of Scotland’s natural assets, ensure access across society to a healthy natural environment, and be responsible for a sustainable global footprint of consumption and production.

Monitoring to prevent pollution

To achieve these outcomes not only requires the monitoring of known substances of concern, but also emerging contaminants like pharmaceuticals, microplastics, and new versions of chemicals such as flame retardants and other persistent organic pollutants (such as per or poly fluorinated alkyl substances, PFAS). We need to take into account the chemical footprint of our consumption to ensure we are not leaving a legacy of chemical contamination around the world.

Oversight and enforcement

A new environment watchdog to oversee compliance with environmental law will be an essential part of achieving these outcomes, and must be a truly independent body with sufficient powers to protect Scotland’s natural resources. This should include adequate resources and ability to investigate complaints from the public, charities and businesses, and impose sanctions when standards are breached.

Fidra welcomes the Environment Strategy for Scotland and looks forward to further details of how these ambitions will be realised using targets, regulations, governance, monitoring and enforcement. Find out more about how Fidra’s work supports Scotland’s environment, and beyond, by exploring our projects.



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