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.

30 civil society organisations call on Defra to act on PFAS, ‘Forever Chemicals’

Fidra has joined 29 other environmental and health NGOs in calling on DEFRA for urgent, group-based regulation of PFAS to prevent continued PFAS pollution in the UK environment. 

There is now unequivocal evidence that per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances, PFAS, have caused global contamination of the environment, wildlife and human populations. Some chemicals in this group have strong links to testicular and kidney cancer, hypertension, high cholesterol, and thyroid disease. 

The letter sent to the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice and Minister for Agri-Innovation and Climate Adaptation, Jo Churchill on the 28th May is calling for the grouped restriction of PFAS to protect current and future generations. Our statement and letter have been submitted to Defra as they assess PFAS regulation as part of a regulatory management options analysis (RMOA). An RMOA is intended to help authorities decide the most appropriate actions to address chemicals of concern. Our joint statement has provided essential references and reliable data to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for the RMOA process.

We hope that the UK Government will use this opportunity to keep pace with regulatory changes happening at the EU level as Germany, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands prepare a joint PFAS group restriction dossier. 

Alongside other recommendations (which you can also read in our statement), there are recommendations to take immediate action to phase out PFAS where suitable alternatives are already in regular use across the UK market (e.g. in food packaging), and to take immediate action to prevent products containing high levels of PFAS from being marketed as ‘compostable’. You can find out more about the problems caused by PFAS presence in compostable packaging here, and Fidra’s work on PFAS in food packaging here. 

We are hopeful that the precautionary principle, as enshrined in the UK Environment Act 2021, is enacted with PFAS regulation in mind. The RMOA is due to be published later this year. 

The statement is still open for signatories. If you represent a relevant NGO and wish to add your support, please send an organisational logo to info@fidra.org.uk.