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.

Fidra brings an environmental perspective to UK fire safety regulations

Why does an environmental charity have an interest in the UK Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) regulations?

Fidra recently featured in the stakeholder spotlight section of the Office for Product Safety and Standards’ newsletter describing the the updates to these regulations, read our response below to find out more, or follow the link here to read the full newsletter.

What is your interest to date in the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) regulation?

Fidra is Scottish Registered Charity (SC043895) working to reduce plastic waste and eliminate the burden of chemical pollution on the environment. We use the best available science to identify and understand environmental issues, working closely with industry and policymakers to develop and deliver pragmatic solutions that will support a more sustainable society.

Many of the chemical flame retardants currently used in the UK are recognised as damaging environmental pollutants. They can also represent a barrier to recycling and reuse, reducing our ability to promote a safe and functioning circular economy. Fidra therefore supports regulatory change that removes barriers to sustainable innovation and promotes positive environmental change.

What do you see as the main challenges and positives to revising the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) regulations?

The most obvious challenge has been in reaching a consensus among stakeholders with different areas of expertise. There can be little doubt that the overarching priority in regulatory change must be the protection of human life, encompassing both fire safety and exposure to toxic substances. However, this has been complicated by issues of scientific complexity, logistics and economics, and exacerbated by ineffective communication that has resulted in mistrust between stakeholders.

flame retardants in furniture

Since the process of regulatory update began, there have been significant advances in the field of toxicology. We now have a much greater understanding of the risks these chemicals can pose to both human and environmental health, bringing recognition and consensus across previously disparate stakeholder groups. This puts us in a much stronger position now than during previous consultations. By revising the current regulations and removing the outdated barriers that prevent innovation, we have the opportunity to support UK manufacturing, reduce the impact of harmful chemical exposure on vulnerable populations, improve our environment and support the circular economy that is so fundamental to a sustainable society.

What is the main issue that you would like to see come out of the regulation?

Fidra would like to see the regulations updated to allow fire-safety through product design, eliminating the necessity for chemical flame retardants. Where chemicals are applied, there must be a focus on transparency and traceability. The current system, where only compliance is communicated through supply chains, is ineffective in keeping pace with regulatory change. We therefore strongly recommend revisions that ensure full chemical content is accessible throughout a product’s life-span, including intended use, subsequent reuse and recycling, and eventual safe disposal.

 

Find out more about the impacts of chemical flame retardants, and the UK’s unique position on these environmental pollutants, in our blog ‘Flame retardants in our furniture; UK regulations and ten years of ‘imminent change’

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