Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals”, are synthetic compounds widely used since 1940s in a number of products, and currently regulated due to their bioaccumulation. Those substances are of serious environmental and health concerns. In fact, they are very persistent pollutants, and classified as substances of very high concerns due to its toxicity for reproduction, causing cancer and liver damage. They have also ability to deplete the ozone layer. According European Chemicals Association (ECHA) “PFAS’s have been frequently observed to contaminate groundwater, surface water and soil Between 1970-2002, the total worldwide production was 122 500 ton and more than 45 000 ton released to air and water.
What is so special about them? They have “anti-stick” property seen on Teflon pans and different clothes or shoes. They give “added value finishing to textile substrate” about 48% and paper protection (33%) based on report. These chemicals are largely discussed within textile industry. The finishing or coating using this chemistry gives jacket the water, oil and soil repellence performance. Basically it means that your jacket will protect you from rain, spilled coffee, dirt, and you will not get wet or muddy. However, these chemicals easily enter environment during their manufacture, the fabric finishing process or by using products and laundry of products they were applied to. From clothes loss happens through wear and tear, laundry and tumble drying, as well as renew the function by spraying or wash-in*.
*Adding active substances in the washing machine during laundering to renew the function of the fabric
Currently, those chemicals are phase-out (removed) from the entire textile supply chain but those they were used already entered the environment because they are bioaccumulative and persistent. It means they occur over a prolonged period of time in environment. All around; in the atmosphere, air, soil, water or even arctic. Science and praxis shows. The study on Greenland predators – polar bears, Greenland sledge dogs and Norwegian Arctic foxes – showed that PFC’s are within the organs of those animals. Very recent study detected those chemicals in turtles and also in unhatched eggs. They were at such levels which could already cause a developmental toxicity in birds of those animals. Also recently published founding of scientists from Boston University (also here). They tested products for children and adolescents which were labelled as nontoxic products. Out of 93 items 36 were tested positively – it illustrates nonessential use of this chemistry in products for children and youths.
If you have in your wardrobe some of these winter jackets or other functional jackets, do not renew the functionality by wash-in. Not all substances are wash-in to your jacket, most of them enter the waste water treatment. Even from there it is not that straightforward to deal with it.
When are you buying new jacket, take few minutes to read the hanger information. In best, search for those jackets which are free of PFC treatment.
We should not wait till the regulators do stringer decision like that in Zwijndrecht, near Antwerp, Belgium, where 3M PFAS production had to shut down in November 2021. Some other news about it is here or here even here at ORF ECO second story.