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Understanding PFAS: The Forever Chemicals

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What are PFAS chemicals, where can they be found and how do they impact the environment?

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These chemicals are found in a wide range of products, including non-stick cookware, firefighting foams, clothing, and even food packaging!

Understanding PFAS: The Forever Chemicals

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are a class of synthetic chemicals that have become ubiquitous in our modern world, including in the clothing and textiles we wear. These chemicals, often referred to as "forever chemicals" due to their persistence in the environment, pose significant risks to both human health and the planet. In this post, we'll explore the nature of PFAS, their use in clothing, the environmental impact, and associated health risks.


What are PFAS Chemicals?

PFAS are a group of thousands of man-made chemicals that have been widely used in a variety of industries due to their unique properties, such as water and stain resistance, heat resistance, and durability. These chemicals are found in a wide range of products, including non-stick cookware, firefighting foams, clothing, and even food packaging!


The defining characteristic of PFAS is the strong carbon-fluorine bonds, which make them extremely stable and resistant to degradation. This property, while beneficial for certain applications, also means that PFAS can persist in the environment for decades, earning them the nickname "forever chemicals." As these chemicals accumulate in the environment and within the human body. (gross) 

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Where are PFAS? 

PFAS are commonly used in clothing to provide water, oil, and other stain repellency. Sometimes even to enhance durability and wrinkle resistance. These chemicals are often found in outerwear, activewear, and even children's clothing, where their water-resistant properties are highly valued. However, the presence of PFAS in clothing is a growing concern, as these chemicals can be released into the environment during the manufacturing process, wear and tear, and even through washing and disposal.


Water-Resistant Apparel

PFAS are often used to create water-resistant and waterproof fabrics in clothing such as rain jackets, hiking gear, and outdoor equipment. These chemicals create a barrier that repels water, oil, and stains, making the garments more durable and functional.


Stain-Resistant Fabrics

PFAS are also commonly used in stain-resistant treatments for fabrics, such as those found in furniture upholstery, carpets, and even some clothing items. These chemicals create a barrier that prevents liquids and oils from penetrating the fabric, making it easier to clean and maintain.


Durable, Long-Lasting Textiles

The unique properties of PFAS, including their heat resistance and durability. This can extend the lifespan, but at the cost of increased PFAS exposure and environmental impact.

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The Environmental Impact of PFAS

The widespread use of PFAS in environment can have consequences. These chemicals are highly persistent, meaning they do not easily break down in the environment. As a result, PFAS can accumulate in soil, water, and air, contaminating ecosystems and posing a threat to both wildlife and human health.

Soil Contamination

PFAS can leach from landfills and wastewater treatment plants, accumulating in the soil and groundwater, where they can be absorbed by plants and enter the food chain.

Water Pollution

PFAS can also contaminate surface water, such as rivers, lakes, and oceans, through various pathways, including runoff, industrial discharge, and wastewater treatment plant effluent.

Atmospheric Dispersion

PFAS can be released into the air during the manufacturing process and through the degradation of PFAS-containing products, such as textiles. These airborne PFAS can then be transported long distances and deposited in remote areas. Even the most remote areas. 

For more information on PFAS please head over to EPA.gov or the CDC.gov

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