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.
oN OUR CLOTHES
IN OUR ENVIRONMENT

Press Release: Launch of PFASfree website

Today we are officially launching our PFASfree website and highlighting our survey results with the following press release.

New study casts doubt on benefits of school uniform stain resistance

30th July 2018

Environmental charity Fidra, has found that stain resistant uniforms may not bring the benefits consumers expect and could be harming the environment. Many stain resistant coatings are still being made using perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs)[1] despite restrictions on some PFAS chemicals and widespread concern about their environmental impact.  Results of Fidra’s survey of school uniform purchasers suggests that stain resistance does not reduce the frequency of washing or make customers replace clothing less often, and that any stain resistance is lost during the first few months of ownership[i].

Stain resistance leaving a lasting mark on the environment

Many stain resistant coatings use PFASs to make clothing oil and/or water repellent. PFASs are a group of man-made chemicals, which can be released into the environment during production, use and disposal of stain resistant uniforms and other products. They have been found in the air and water worldwide including remote arctic regions and are found in wildlife and humans. For example, concentrations have been detected in polar bears, whales[ii] and blood samples across human populations[iii]. PFASs do not easily break down in the environment; they can build up in the tissue or blood of animals where they can cause harm[iv].  Recent research concludes that the level of technical performance provided by PFASs is not required for most textile applications, and that they should only be used where their need is “unique and critical”[v]. Following growing concerns from the scientific community[vi] and restrictions on some PFAS chemicals[vii], supermarkets have been taking a precautionary approach and phasing out the use of any PFASs from uniforms and other products. However, analysis of the UK school uniforms market by Fidra reveals that many department stores, high street shops and independent retailers continue to sell school uniforms with PFAS-based stain resistance[viii].

Does stain resistance reduce the need for washing or make uniforms last longer?

Stain resistance is marketed as bringing added convenience, but consumers may not be getting the benefits they expect. Often stain resistant finishes on uniforms are only guaranteed for around 20 washes[ix].  Fidra’s survey of uniform purchasing and washing habits revealed that uniforms (other than shirts, which are washed more regularly) are washed every 4-6 days in term time, which would mean uniforms bought new for the start of the school year will have any stain resistance washed off by the February break if not before. Fidra’s study reveals that stain resistance does not appear to reduce the frequency of washing or increase the life of a garment in real terms.  In fact, Fidra found that the parents who considered stain-resistant finishes important when buying uniforms washed trousers and skirts significantly more often (average 4.5 days between washes) than those who did not value stain resistance (average 5.4 days between washes). Similarly, Fidra found no decrease in purchase frequency associated with stain resistant finishes on school uniforms1.

Dr Madeleine Berg who manages Fidra’s PFAS Free Uniforms project explains: ‘’School uniforms are just one of a number of products that can contribute PFAS chemicals to the environment; PFASs are used in everything from blazers to baking paper. If stain resistance isn’t really providing the benefits consumers would expect and could be causing harm to the environment, we need to ask ourselves, do we really need stain resistant uniforms? Many supermarkets have already switched to PFAS-free alternatives, but unfortunately, we don’t know much about the chemistry of the alternatives used. There are often non-coated alternatives available too, which tend to be cheaper and ultimately use the least chemicals and pose the least environmental risk.’’

Dr Christina Jönsson is a co-ordinator of the Swedish Research consortia POPFREE, which seeks to find environmentally friendly alternatives to PFASs in consumer products: ‘’What makes PFAS chemicals so concerning are their unique chemical properties. The carbon-fluorine bond in these compounds is the most stable known in chemistry, so PFASs will take a very long time to break down in the environment. PFASs are highly mobile and can quickly travel to remote regions of the globe like the Arctic. We know some PFASs are toxic but there have not been enough studies done on all the different chemicals being used, so we don’t know exactly how hazardous many of them are. But we know that once PFASs get into the environment they will spread, and stay around for hundreds of years, which is enough to warrant action as a precaution.  We also need make sure that any PFAS replacement chemicals aren’t just as damaging.’’

The supermarket chain Tesco have removed PFASs from their uniform range as part of signing up to the Greenpeace Detox campaign. Rebecca Jordan, Fabric Technical Manager explains “Eliminating PFASs from our back to school range first required the raising of awareness within our supply chain and making it a positive topic of conversation. Together, we gave ourselves the goal of replacing PFASs with an affordable alternative which is better for the environment without compromising the customers enjoyment of garment performance. We achieved this goal last year and now our back to school range is PFAS free. It feels great to be part of a sustainable initiative which is simply the right thing to do.”

What can shoppers do? 
Read the labels of skirts, trousers, blazers and shirts before you buy and check www.pfasfree.org.uk to inform yourselves before you buy.  You can find uniforms without PFAS-based stain resistant. Aldi, Asda, Lidl, M&S, Morrisons and Tesco have all recently switched to PFAS-free stain resistant coatings. Unfortunately, little information has been made available about the chemistry of the alternatives used. Ideally you can look for clothing that is free of any added stain-resistance or other technical finish. Fidra has asked retailers for details of non-coated options available but have had limited response. So far, only Aldi has confirmed that they have will have non-coated cardigans, jumpers, dresses and shorts available this year[x].

Find out more at www.pfasfree.org.uk

[1] PFASs are sometimes more generally known as Per/Polyfluorinated Compounds or PFCs.

[i] Dinsmore, 2018. Are the potential environmental gains from stain resistant finishes negated by consumer behaviour? Survey analysis and report for Fidra. Available to download online at https://www.pfasfree.org.uk/current-initiatives/research/school-uniform-survey

[ii] Gebbink, W. A., et al. (2016). Observation of emerging per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in Greenland marine mammals. Chemosphere, 144, 2384-2391.

[iii] Monroy R, et al. (2008). Serum levels of perfluoroalkyl compounds in human maternal and umbilical cord blood samples. Environmental Research;108(1):56-62.

[iv] Haukås, M. et al. (2007). Bioaccumulation of per-and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) in selected species from the Barents Sea food web. Environmental Pollution, 148(1), 360-371.; https://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/13479/20150316/pollution-giving-polar-bears-brain-damage.htm

[v] https://chemicalwatch.com/68770/eu-project-assesses-critical-pfas-use-in-textiles

[vi] Blum, Arlene, et al. “The Madrid statement on poly-and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs).” Environmental health perspectives 123.5 (2015): A107.

[vii] PFOA and PFOS are examples of better known PFAS chemicals that are known to have Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic properties and are therefore restricted (PFOS), or due to be restricted (PFOA), under the Stockholm Convention.

[viii] See Who Sells What at www.pfasfree.org.uk

[ix] E.g. TeflonTM fabric protector ranges have an advertised durability of between 10 and 30 washes.

[x] https://www.pfasfree.org.uk/current-initiatives/inform-consumers/who-sells-what