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.

Health and Environmental NGO’s call for urgent action to turn the tide on UK PFAS pollution

The evidence is clear, our excessive and largely uncontrolled use of persistent environmental pollutants, PFAS, has led to global contamination of the environment, wildlife and humans. Wherever scientists look, they find PFAS. From the North Pole to the South, and from the tops of the highest mountains to the depths of ocean sediments, PFAS are everywhere! And with growing concern over the impacts that this has on health, biodiversity and natural resources, Fidra are joining with health and environmental NGOs to ask the UK government for immediate action on these harmful chemicals.

Will the Government act on PFAS?

Recognizing this growing concern, the UK, Welsh and Scottish Governments called on the UK Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency to initiate a regulatory management options analysis (RMOA) on PFAS. The RMOA, which started in early 2020, will investigate the risks that PFAS pose to human health and the environment, and recommend the best way forward for the UK. At Fidra, it is our strong opinion that this way forward must include urgent regulatory controls that cut out unnecessary uses of all PFAS.

Through our ongoing work in this area, we’ve already shown that PFAS used in stain resistant clothing provides no discernible benefit to the consumer. We’ve seen research showing PFAS in some cosmetics, but not in others. We’ve found PFAS used in a wide range of food packaging where there are suitable alternatives that could easily be used in their place, and by working with UK Supermarkets and suppliers, we’ve seen a clear appetite for change. But, this is only the start. We cannot rely on a handful of industry frontrunners to change the way we use and dispose of PFAS across the UK, there is simply too much at stake.

Fidra have joined leading UK health and environmental NGOs in presenting a clear statement for action. Together, we are calling on the UK Government to use this RMOA as an opportunity to drive genuine change, to remove PFAS where they’re not needed, direct innovation towards sustainable alternatives and put the UK on a trajectory towards a safer and more sustainable future.

Click below to view the full statement and current list of signatories.

If you represent a relevant NGO and wish to add your support, please send an organisational logo to info@fidra.org.uk.