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.

Marine Conservation Society find PFAS in your bathroom cabinet

New research by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has identified that popular bathroom products, such as sun cream,  skincare products and make up, contain ‘forever chemicals’, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), which have a long lasting and detrimental impact on our ocean. MCS says the chemicals’ presence in so many bathroom staples is concerning as they are washed down the sink, are resistant to waste water treatment and eventually end up in our oceans, where they can harm wildlife.

Dr. Francesca Bevan, MCS chemical pollution specialist, explains: “PFAS chemicals are widely used in many products, including cosmetics, and this steady stream of chemicals into the marine environment is putting animals at risk, with the full extent of the possible damage not yet known. Studies have been conducted on dolphins, polar bears, otters and seals and have shown the negative effects of PFAS on their immune systems, blood, kidney and liver function.”

PFAS have several properties, such as smoothing and spreading, which manufacturers and marketing departments look for in cosmetics. However Fidra’s work with research consortia POPFREE on alternatives to PFAS has found that their function is easy to replace in cosmetics.  PFAS has been found in:

  • Make-up products, particularly eyeshadow and foundation
  • Face masks
  • Facial cream
  • Hair care
  • Face wash
  • Shaving foam and similar shaving products
  • Nail care

Full ingredient labels on cosmetics reveal the widespread use of PFAS however ingredient lists can be long and complex. For other products, such as food packaging, there is often no way of knowing whether they contain PFAS. MCS are calling for retailers to stop using PFAS in their products to protect the public’s health, the health of the ocean, and for better regulations.

Currently, only two chemicals, in a group of over 4,700 PFAS, have been banned globally due to data proving a link between exposure to these chemicals and effects on the liver, gastrointestinal tract and thyroid in humans and animals. MCS are joining  ChemTrust and Fidra in calling for better legislation on PFAS in manufacturing.

Dr. Francesca Bevan, MCS says:  ”PFAS chemicals should be banned from non-essential use in consumer and industry products solely because of their extreme persistence in the environment. These chemicals will build up over time in the environment and animals leading to potentially unforeseen effects.”