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 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 PFASs 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.

Dark Waters exposes PFAS pollution

Tips on crying in a professional situation anyone?

When was the last time you cried in the cinema? For me, it was on Friday 7th February at a preview screening of Mark Ruffalo’s new film, DARK WATERS.

Even if people don’t admit it, I’m prepared to bet that plenty of people shed a tear or two at the cinema, and that is definitely OK. But is it still OK when you’re watching a film in a professional capacity, surrounded by people you need to be able to network with once the lights come up? This was the situation I found myself in that Friday evening.

Given Fidra’s ongoing work on PFAS pollution, we’ve had the exciting opportunity to work alongside the UK team promoting Dark Waters, Todd Haynes’ exciting new film starring Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway. Dark Waters tell the true story of lawyer, Robert Bilott, (Mark Ruffalo) who works tirelessly to uncover the science behind an unidentified chemical leaking into the local water supply.

“Du Pont is knowingly poisoning 70,000 local residents” Ruffalo’s character cries in desperation as he reaches the realisation that these forever chemicals, PFAS are present throughout his home – on his pans and carpets – and in his family, including his third, unborn, child.

As I try and secretly wipe away the tears from my face, I recognise the emotions that Ruffalo is portraying. When I started working at Fidra, I learned about the chemical pollution impacting our global community. I had my ‘Chemical Awakening’. I learned of the injustice facing people and species who are unable to protect themselves from being poisoned day after day by our endless consumption. I was dismayed as I grew to understand that our current regulatory system allows for chemicals to be produced and enter the market, before they undergo any meaningful testing that guarantees their safety for human health or our environment.
The portrayal of Bilott’s awakening, and immediate feeling of betrayal from companies we trust every day, was alarmingly similar to my own experience.

Digging deeper

On the train back from London, I started to read Robert’s Bilott’s book, Exposure. Exposure eloquently, yet frankly, tells this story in his own words. No Hollywood glamour. Just his honest account of working on this case, brought to him by family friend and farmer, Earl Tennant.

Bilott writes, “DuPont had known it. They had known it when [PFAS] contamination was killing Earl’s cows, even as they tried to blame the deaths on Earl. DuPont had known eighteen years ago that this “forever chemical” was contaminating public water and had known the risk it might pose to the public” (pg. 193).
Not only were Earl’s cows affected by this polluted water, but his family were also tested for PFAS poisoning. Their blood results showed levels 3-10 times higher than the average American in previous studies conducted by 3M (pg. 110).

And then there’s the 70,000 residents downstream of where DuPont were dumping these chemicals, 70,000 people whose drinking water was contaminated. Even the air they breathed contained PFAS. The levels of PFAS in some of the community were “sixty to eighty times higher than the general population” (pg. 260).

And it went further, further downstream in the Ohio Valley. “My boys, my wife, Sarah’s mom, whose hair had just started to grow back after her round of chemo – we were the people downstream.” (pg. 178).

Beyond this factory, beyond even the US, there’s us. We are these people. We are now the ones ingesting, inhaling and absorbing these chemicals through everyday activities, such as eating food contaminated by the packaging it comes in and drinking water with ever increasing levels of these forever chemicals.

In every chapter of this book, just like Bilott and Ruffalo who wanted to produce this film and tell this story, I am shocked and upset by the negligent harm that was caused by DuPont and the lengths they go to cover up their actions.

  • Chapter 1: “Whatever had killed this cow appeared to…have eaten her from the inside out.” (pg. 8)
  • Chapter 2: “Earl himself was sick. He said he had trouble breathing after going anywhere near the landfill or the creek, particularly when the ‘vapor clouds’…wafted over his property.” (pg. 19)
  • Chapter 3: “it appeared that industrial sludge had been dumped into the landfill, but it was not clear to me whether DuPont had received proper permission to begin dumping that waste in a landfill designed for nonhazardous waste” (pg. 27)
  • Chapter 4: “I began to discern a hidden message in their resistance. If I asked for information on anything other than a “listed and regulated” chemical, DuPont would react with outrage.” (pg. 44)

And so it continues… in every chapter. On every page.

Fidra

Working in the environmental sector means that you are constantly engaging with issues of environmental harm and pollution. That’s why we do what we do – to play our small part in protecting our environment. Despite what I’ve read and seen in recent weeks, I hold onto the belief that the vast majority of people working in industry and policy genuinely want to do what’s right. With the right level of nudging, the right sources of information, and some practical solutions, change will come.

That’s why at Fidra, we are proud to work at all levels of influence, through community engagement, liaising with businesses and influencing policy. In a recent interview, Mark Ruffalo said: “all of us together in this woken moment, we could change the world”. Join Fidra, support our work and show that we can work together to change the world.

  • What we need YOU to do:

Sign our petition asking UK supermarkets to remove PFAS from their food packaging.

Wherever possible, avoid buying products with PFAS, let’s support the businesses that have already taken positive action! Check out our website for a list of brands selling PFAS free alternatives.

  • What we are asking RETAILERS to do:

Stop selling products with Forever Chemicals in them, and to start with, we’re focusing on food packaging. Read our recent blog to find out why.

Create a clear and transparent chemical policy that clearly states their commitment to removing harmful, toxic chemicals from our supply chains.

  • What we are asking GOVERNMENT to do:

Introduce more stringent chemical regulation, that better protects our health and environment from harmful chemicals.

Take a group-based approach to chemical legislation, rather than regulating chemicals one-by-one. With close to 5,000 PFAS available, and only 2 globally regulated, continuing with our current system simply isn’t working.

About the blogger: Naomi joined Fidra in August 2018 with a background in environmental education and engagement. Naomi’s role at Fidra support projects looking at the use of chemicals such as PFAS and bisphenols on everyday products, as well as our work on food packaging and Scottish salmon farming

Fidra employees, Kerry Rait (L) and Naomi Arnold (R) with Robert Bilott (C).