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PFAS: a ‘forever chemical’ in apparel

PFAS stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), this group of chemicals consists of about 9,000 compounds. These chemicals are widely used additives in textile manufacturing due to their unique chemical properties which can make textiles water-, stain- or heat-resistant. The PFASs are used in our daily articles such as t‑shirts, jeans, outdoor jackets, and shoes as a coating to make them water, stain, and heat resistant. So, it makes our life easy, right!

Figure 1: The PFASs are used in our daily articles such as t‑shirts, jeans, outdoor jackets, and shoes as a coating to make them water, stain, and heat resistant. Courtesy: Collected

Not completely. Though it comes with many advantages that add special features to our daily textile articles, it has some horrific disadvantages!

PFAS is a toxic chemical. These chemicals are dubbed “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down and remain forever in the environment. They accumulate in animals, including humans, and are linked to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, decreased immunity, hormone disruption, and a range of other serious health problems.

Even the toxic PFAS compounds are contaminating the air inside homes, classrooms, and stores at alarming levels, a new study has found.

Figure 2: PFAS is used to make our apparel waterproof.

Researchers with the University of Rhode Island and Green Science Policy Institute tested indoor air at 20 sites and detected the “forever chemicals” in 17 locations. The airborne compounds are thought to break off of PFAS-treated products such as carpeting and clothing and attach to dust or freely float through the indoor environment. And at the end ingested into our body.

Researchers previously considered that these chemicals are routed to our body through food and water but this new study unravels a new way of human exposure to PFAS, breathing as we spend about 90% of our time indoors.

Figure 3: Indoor air can also become toxic with the presence of PFAS products

So, to get rid of the adverse effects of the PFAS there is no alternative to phase out this chemical from the apparel supply chain. Alternatives to this chemical should be found out.

Some studies have found that the use of non-fluorinated finishes can impart waterproof property on textiles to a similar extent to PFAS. This is a light of hope, hope alternatives to these toxic chemicals will be developed soon to make our daily article for our lives.

If anyone has any feedback or input regarding the published news, please contact: info@textiletoday.com.bd

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