PFAS: A Harm to Human Health and the Environment

What are PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in various industrial and consumer products since the 1950s. These chemicals have unique properties that make them resistant to water, oil, and heat, making them valuable in manufacturing processes, and consumer products such as non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpets and fabrics, waterproof clothing, and firefighting foam.

 

Why PFAS are Harmful

The widespread use of PFAS has led to their widespread presence in the environment, with contamination being found in water, soil, and air. The harmful effects of PFAS on the environment are numerous. They can impact wildlife and ecosystems, leading to developmental and reproductive issues in various species.

However, the effects of PFAS on human health are of particular concern. Studies have linked PFAS exposure to various health problems, including cancer, thyroid disease, immune system dysfunction, and developmental problems in infants and children. 

 

Industries that use PFAS

Some of the main industries that use PFAS include:

  1. Textiles and Clothing: PFAS are often used in clothing and textiles to create water and stain-resistant finishes. This can be especially useful for outdoor clothing, such as raincoats, ski jackets, and hiking pants. However, as these textiles are often washed and exposed to the environment, PFAS can be released into the water and soil.
  2. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): PFAS are also used in PPE, such as gloves, aprons, and masks, to create barriers against chemicals and other hazardous substances. However, this use of PFAS can potentially expose workers to the chemicals, and when the PPE is disposed of, the PFAS can enter the environment.
  3. Food Packaging: PFAS are often used in food packaging to create grease-resistant and non-stick coatings. However, when these food packages are discarded, the PFAS can contaminate the soil and water.
  4. Electronics: PFAS are used in electronics, such as smartphones and computers, to create water-resistant coatings. However, when these electronics are disposed of, the PFAS can potentially enter the environment.

As mentioned, PFAS are often used to create water and stain-resistant finishes. This is especially important for outdoor clothing and PPE, as they need to be able to withstand harsh weather conditions and frequent washing. However, the use of PFAS in these products can potentially expose workers and consumers to the chemicals, as well as contaminate the environment. 

 

Alternatives to PFAS 

In recent years, there has been growing concern over the use of PFAS in the textiles and clothing, and PPE industries due to their potential negative impact on human health and the environment. As a result, there has been increased interest in developing alternative solutions that can provide similar benefits without the use of PFAS. Some of the current alternatives being explored in these industries include:

  1. Nanofiber Barrier Layers: Nanofiber technology is being developed as a possible alternative to PFAS in creating water and stain-resistant textiles. Nanofibers are extremely thin fibers that can be woven into textiles to create a barrier layer that repels water and stains. 
  2. Plasma-Enhanced Chemical Vapor Deposition (PECVD) Coating: PECVD is a process that can deposit a thin layer of material onto a surface. In the textile industry, PECVD coatings are being developed as a possible alternative to PFAS for creating water and stain-resistant finishes on fabrics. PECVD coatings are created through a chemical reaction in a vacuum chamber, and the resulting coatings are thin, uniform, and durable.

Other alternatives being explored include natural and biodegradable materials, such as beeswax and chitosan, as well as non-PFAS fluorinated materials. While these alternatives are still in development and may not provide the same level of performance as PFAS, they offer potential solutions that are less harmful to human health and the environment.

 

Companies with PFAS Alternatives

There are several companies that offer nanofiber barrier layers and/or PECVD coating services as an alternative to PFAS-containing materials in the textile and clothing industry. Some examples of these companies are:

  1. Surfx Technologies LLC: Surfx Technologies is a California-based company that specializes in PECVD coating services for various applications, including textiles, electronics, and medical devices.
  2. Gencoa: Gencoa is a UK-based company that offers PECVD coating solutions for various industries, including textiles, automotive, and aerospace.
  3. Revolution Fibres: Revolution Fibres is a New Zealand-based company that specializes in producing nanofiber materials for a range of applications, including textiles. They offer a range of water and stain-resistant nanofiber products that can be used in place of PFAS-containing materials.
  4. Matregenix: Matregenix is a US-based company that offers a PFAS-free nanofiber barrier layer with a PECVD coating for creating water and stain-resistant finishes on textiles.

 

Conclusion

In summary, PFAS have been widely used in various industries for their unique resistance to heat, water, and oil. However, PFAS have been linked to negative impacts on human health and the environment, leading to an increased interest in finding alternatives. The development and implementation of PFAS alternatives such as nanofiber barrier layers and PECVD coatings represent a significant advancement towards a safer and more sustainable future for the textile and clothing industry. Hence, it is essential to continue to invest in the research and development of such solutions.

 

 

Source of Featured Image: © Fire Engineering