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.

ECHA lists another PFAS as harmful to the environment

Good news for the environment as more PFAS are identified as a ‘substances of very high concern’. But is it enough?

The European Chemicals Agency’s  (ECHA) Member State Committee have unanimously supported a Dutch proposal to list GenX chemicals (otherwise referred to by the more catchy name 2,3,3,3-tetrafluoro-2-(heptafluoropropoxy) propionic acid, or HFPO-DA for short) as substances of very high concern (SVHC).

From mid-July 2019, GenX will be included on the ‘Candidate List’, with ECHA considering it for future restrictions. Being classified as a substance of very high concern and placed on the candidate list also initiates its own set of legal obligations, e.g. requiring better communication and transparency of use, and an obligation to inform customers upon request.

This is the first step on the long road towards restriction and eventual removal or replacement, and an important move towards protecting our environment.

But is it enough?

This new listing comes five years after GenX began being used in the EU. ECHA’s Member State Committee unanimously agreed that the GenX chemical had a “high potential to cause effects in wildlife and in humans through the environment due to its very high persistence, mobility in water, potential for long-range transport, accumulation in plants and observed effects on human health and the environment”. Why are we allowing these chemicals to enter our marketplace before we know they are safe?

GenX chemicals were developed as an alternative to PFOA, another restricted PFAS. They are now widely used as a precursor in the production of fluoropolymers, such as those used to make non-stick pans and grease-proof paper and card for food packaging. How have we allowed one harmful chemical to be immediately replaced by another?

Until we implement stringent class-based restrictions that prevent chemicals being immediately replaced by structurally, and therefore functionally, similar counterparts, and apply a precautionary principle at the very earliest stage in chemical registration, regrettable substitutions such as this will continue to plague our environment.

Fidra recently highlighted our concerns around the use of PFAS in food packaging in the EU Food Contact Materials consultation, calling for a class-based approach to restricting chemicals of concern across EU legislation.


Read more on ECHA’s website.


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