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. 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.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. 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. 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).Most UK waste still ends up in landfill, and this includes PFAS-containing products. Studies have shown that the liquid coming from landfills (known as leachate) often contain non-polymer PFAS chemicals. In the USA the total quantities were estimated at 563-638 kg in 2013. To properly break down PFAS chemicals high temperature (1000oC or more) incineration is recommended. Incineration of municipal waste does not necessarily reach these temperatures (min temp. required is 850oC), and the incomplete breakdown could release non-polymer PFAS.Wash and wear of clothing that contains PFAS-based stain-resistant or water repellent finishes release PFAS to the environment. Coatings are thought to lose effectiveness after 20-30 washes. This can include non-polymer PFAS, remnant from production or as a break-down product of side-chain polymers (Lassen et al. 2015). The manufacture of stain-resistant finishes releases PFAS into the environment, both by air and water emissions. PFAS are very hard to remove during water treatment. Industrial emissions are estimated to be the biggest source of these chemicals to the environment.

Fidra’s approach to working with retailers

Fidra’s successful approach to raising awareness of environmental concerns, focuses around working closely with retailers and industry bodies to find safe and practical solutions. If you would like guidance and support on making your business PFAS free, please get in touch with

As an organisation, Fidra is proud to be evidence-based, understanding the importance of our work being supported by scientific research. As part of this, we conduct detailed reviews of scientific literature and stay up to date with new research coming to the fore. We also work closely with research and innovation experts, suppliers and retailers.

Our PFAS project has already seen success. In 2018, we conducted a consumer survey, with over 600 respondents, to understand the real world benefits of PFAS-based stain-resistant treatments on school uniforms. Our results showed no reduction in wash-frequency or clothing purchase, indicating the technical qualities of these treatments were not translated into genuine benefits to the customer. Many of the major UK school uniform retailers have since removed PFAS stain resistant coatings from their own brand ranges.

Find out more: School Uniform Case Study

Food packaging

In 2019, Fidra commissioned testing of packaging samples from leading UK supermarkets and takeaway chains. We found high levels of PFAS in samples collected from 8 out of 9 major supermarkets and 100% of takeaways tested.

We have been in direct communications with all companies tested and are hoping to work together to end the use of PFAS in UK food packaging. Visit our PFAS-free Food Packaging page and check out our report to find which retailers are already taking action against PFAS. 

Recommendations based on our findings are listed below.

  • With no information available on PFAS in products at time of purchase, we recommend individuals looking to lower their exposure to PFAS and minimise their environmental impact to avoid unnecessary use of disposable food packaging, favouring reusable containers wherever possible.
  • We recommend supermarkets and takeaway outlets act towards phasing PFAS out of food packaging and, due to PFAS’s persistence and mobility in the environment, that this be treated as an immediate priority.
  • We recommend compostability standards lower their accepted PFAS content to no more than what can be considered background contamination.
  • We recommend stringent, group-based chemical legislation, which prevents the addition of PFAS to UK food packaging, and therefore removes this unnecessary source of harmful chemical pollution.