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California to ban toxic 'forever chemicals' used by apparel companies

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

3 Oct 2022

Fashion

Image: Mitumba Karume, Tanzania

Why do clothing garments and textiles need to be made using known toxic chemicals? That question has now been answered by California’s governor, who passed a bill to phase out PFAS, (per and polyfluoroalkyl substances) better known as ‘forever chemicals, that coat many clothing and textile items and are hazardous to the environment.

The full ban goes into effect in 2025, leaving just two and a half years to phase out their use. Outfitter Patagonia has said it would ban these substances from 2024, phasing out any dangerous chemicals in its manufacturing.

Toxic-Free Future (TFF) said in a statement: “Now that we know PFAS can harm our health at very low levels of exposure, we can’t continue to use these toxic chemicals to treat our clothing. Companies have shown they aren’t needed, and getting them out of clothing and textiles will help protect every family,” said Erika Schreder, science director at TFF.

A 2021 study led by TFF, the University of Washington, and Indiana University, showed PFAS was present in breastmilk in all its tested samples. The study further revealed certain PFAS, including ones used in textiles, are doubling every four years.

What are ‘forever chemicals’?

Chemical companies sell PFAS application to products such as paper and textiles as stain-resistant, water-repellent, and grease-proofing treatments. Companies do not (yet) have to disclose their presence, but you will find PFAS on anything from yoga pants to outerwear, sneakers and accessories. PFAS have been linked to serious health problems such as cancer, immune system suppression, increased cholesterol levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, reduced fertility, and increased risk of thyroid disease. PFAS are known as “forever” chemicals because they don’t break down in the environment, nor in our bodies.

“The functionality that PFAS provides—a more stain-resistant coat or more breathable yet water-resistant gym shorts—is not necessary and certainly not worth the health risks,” Sujatha Bergen said to Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “We lived just fine without these chemicals before, and brands could phase them out quickly if they chose to.”

While phasing out these hazardous chemicals is easier said than done, the PFAS group is made up of more than 4,700 man-made chemicals, used across many industries, not just fashion. Packaging, cookware and cosmetics are just some of the categories that widely put PFAS into its products.

While the chemical industry will be lobbying against a widespread ban, the European Environment Agency iterated: "a substance-by-substance risk assessment and management approach is not adequate to efficiently prevent risk to the environment and human health from a single PFAS or mixtures of them".

Article sources: Toxic Free Future, NRDC, EU Observer

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