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.

Public concern sparks questions over the future use of PFAS in the UK.

Following a wave of concern from local constituents, MPs have been asking government ministers tough questions about the future use of harmful forever chemicals, PFAS, within the UK. 

In November last year, we asked Fidra’s supporters to share their concerns about environmental pollutants, PFAS, with their local MPs. In the weeks that followedmore than 900 emails were sent to over 70% of MPs across the UK 

And it didn’t end there. Over the past few months, we’ve been collating responses, and providing information to concerned MPs looking to take matters further. On the request of their constituents, MPs have been sending letters and emails to government ministers for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Health and Social Care and to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, all raising concerns about the future use of PFAS in the UKWe’ve also seen 8 new questions on PFAS raised in parliament by MPs since November last year. Ministers are being questioned about the effectiveness of existing PFAS restrictions, asked if they’re considering banning PFAS in food packaging (something Fidra strongly supports)and if they intend to keep pace with the EU and ensure we move towards restrictions on all non-essential uses of these harmful pollutants. This is a great result, and an important step in ensuring policy that protects us from PFAS. 

The UK government has now announced an intention to perform a Regulatory Management Options Analysis (RMOA) on PFAS. Working with the Environment Agency, they will assess whether there is sufficient need to take action in the UK, and identify appropriate measures to address the issue. There are many hurdles yet to overcome, and there will undoubtedly be those who will dismiss the risks and object to stricter regulations, but this announcement puts PFAS as a key government priority. That’s a giant leap closer to our vision of a future free from PFAS pollution.

The government is also currently developing its chemical strategy, which will set out the framework of how the UK manages and regulates chemicals going forward. The EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, released last year, committed to ban all non-essential use of PFASand with promises that the UK will improve upon environmental standards after Brexit, this is something Fidra strongly believe the UK should follow.

 

What’s Next?

The next few months are a critical time for the development of the UK chemicals strategy and for engagement with the RMOA process, so we’ll be following up on MP responses and encouraging policy discussion on the future of PFAS 

If you contacted your MP and received a response, please remember to share it with us. It’s really important for us to know who’s engaged and who’s willing to take action on this issue. You can forward your response toinfo@fidra.org.uk  

We also need as many people as possible to keep this conversation going, so please, share this blog with your friends and family, and if you haven’t already, follow us on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest updates.