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Non-biodegradable PFAS may release when wearing outdoor clothing

3 March 2022
A new study shows that wearing water-repellent and dirt-repellent outdoor clothing, such as rainwear, can release PFAS that rarely or never leave the ecosystem.

Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are highly persistent chemicals used in manufacturing water-repellent and dirt-repellent clothing. It has long been known that these substances can be released into the environment during the manufacturing process or when products containing PFAS are not properly disposed of. Ike van der Veen, a researcher at VU Amsterdam, carried out a study to discover whether wearing outdoor clothing may also lead to PFAS being released. Her study examined textiles with a coated and water-repellent layer before and after exposure to certain weather conditions, and washing and drying.

Impact of sunlight and rain
The analysis shows that PFAS can also be released when outdoor clothing is worn and exposed to sunlight and rain. Van der Veen used a weathering tester that exposed the textiles to moisture, radiation and warmer temperatures. Three-hundred hours in the machine was equivalent to wearing the clothes for their entire lifespan. The PFAS released by use eventually spread into the environment, where their persistence means that they biodegrade only slightly, if at all.

Legislation on PFAS
To date, two types of PFAS have been banned. Given that the concentrations of individually extractable PFAS increased as a result of weathering, Van der Veen’s research shows that legislation and the establishment of safety standards for one or two specific PFAS will not be sufficient to protect the environment. Van der Veen also advises against replacing one PFAS substance with another, as was previously done in fire-fighting foams and in swapping PFOA for GenX in Teflon production.

Read more on the dissertation