Net tightens again on PFAS use in DWR fabrics 

MUNICH – At ISPO here in Munich, talk of Bluesign technologies and the ZDHC aligning to no longer certify coatings, formulations and water and oil repellent textiles that use fluorine-based PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ from 2024, led to industry insiders saying this was a “bold move” and a major step forward for the industry.

“By implementing the PFAS phase-out strategy bluesign is banning all PFAS-based formulations – of all chain lengths – that are used as DWR (durable water repellents) from bluesign approved materials in apparel by end of 2024,” noted Dr Daniel Waterkamp, product stewardship, Bluesign technologies. “This is a very big step forward in the quest to eliminate PFAS from the textile supply chain.”

These industry-led moves come as California opts to ban PFAS (per & poly fluorinated alkylated substances) use from early 2025 – with some derogations; while the UN ramps up support from PFAS exit programs in certain manufacturing countries and while the EU prepares an extension of the REACH regulation on PFAS that currently restricts ‘C8’.

But does this ‘bold move’ mean the end of PFAS use in textile repellent coatings within 18 months? Well, it’s not that simple. 

At the on-going ISPO in Munich, Rüdiger Fox, CEO of Sympatex which supplies non-PFC based membranes for water repellent fabrics called the move by Bluesign and ZDHC as a “courageous step”, expressing confidence that in “18 months it’s over,” which at this stage may be a little premature when looking at the use of PFAS beyonddurable water repellent coatings.

This is because despite these voluntary (and stringent) moves by the textile industry, there are still sufficient regulatory exemptions in the short-chain PFHxA (C6) restrictions in Europe so that a ‘viable business still remains’, according to a major producer of fluorine-based chemicals.

And while it was described as the ‘death knell’ for PFAS use in durable water and oil repellent textiles by some in the industry when California moved to ban PFAS use from early 2025.

And although it’s not that simple – with efforts elsewhere on-going for some time already – California environmental regulations often point to the direction travel for other legislation – especially around chemicals.

More recently, the governments of Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam vowed to address their respective textile sectors’ use of chemicals with the view to moving away from potentially hazardous substances. Led by the United Nations’ (UN) Environment Programme, an agreement will see US$43 million in funding deployed over five years to align public policy across the four nations to mitigate the future use of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) which are a subset of POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants).

The EU is now also preparing an extension of the REACH/POP regulation to address this issue. And the latest from the USA is that companies could pay hundreds of millions of dollars more to report their production of PFAS and importation of goods made with the chemicals than was originally estimated, according to a revised economic analysis that the EPA will publish this Friday.

In Europe, five EU countries (Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark) proposed additional REACH restrictions with the plan to restrict all PFAS containing CF2/CF3 groups – around 4,700 substances. Any further restrictions could come into force as early as 2025. But perhaps of equal significance to impending legislation is that two of the leading textile chemical standards, Bluesign technologies and the ZDHC have aligned on a decision not to certify PFAS formulations as part of their chemical management programmes. These programmes are already in widespread use by the global textile sector.

From July 2023, Bluesign says that PFAS based chemicals will be phased out from its Bluesign ‘Finder’ and as of July 2024 all Bluesign ‘Approved’ fabrics that are treated with PFAS formulations will be removed from its Bluesign Guide.

Meanwhile, in the recently published version (3.0) of its manufacturers restricted substance list (MRSL), the ZDHC has now moved PFAS chemicals, from the candidate list onto its main list, which like Bluesign essentially bans all formulations based on or including PFAS substances used for fashion, sport or outdoor apparel and footwear and home textiles.

“ZDHC MRSL version 3.0 remains contemporary with the inclusion of newer chemicals of concern and reducing the permissible limits for impurities,” notes Ullhas M. Nimkar, president of The Society of Dyers and Colourists and member of the ZDHC MRSL Council. “This has been possible as the industry is moving towards cleaner production. Notably all the listed PFAS chemicals, commonly known as forever chemicals, have been moved from the candidate list into the main list. This is a significant change which will be better for the environment.”

It would be no surprise now if the well-known Oeko-Tex certifications followed suit to align with Bluesign and ZDHC and to further turn the screw and restrict PFAS formulations for similar uses in the wider textile industry.

“This is a courageous step … fluorochemicals pose health risks in the medium and long term and, moreover, once they enter the food chain, they continue to accumulate … yet many brands unflinchingly justify their use with the benefits for water and grease repellency,” noted Rüdiger Fox, CEO of Sympatex which supplies polyester-based membranes for DWR fabrics that are recyclable. “All we have lacked so far is the courage to make the final decision in our design offices to initiate the change that is long overdue … kicking the can down the road on this issue is no longer acceptable and the time to act is now.”

While the ZDHC and Bluesign have aligned on the ban on PFAS in formulations, this does not yet extend to PTFE membranes themselves – al C6 chemistry

Meanwhile, PFHxAs (C6) a sub-group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) which are also widely used in textiles, are currently under consideration for restriction by the EU in substances, mixtures and in articles in a concentration equal to or above 25 ppb for the sum of PFHxA and its salts, or 1,000 ppb for the sum of PFHxA. It is expected that a ban will become effective in 2024.

Yet one leading chemical supplier of fluorine-based chemicals told us that, “there are still sufficient exemptions in the short-chain PFHxA (C6) for a viable business to remain.” These derogations include textiles and apparel for first responders such as firefighters, medical textiles, military grade uniforms and fabrics and for technical textiles where oil and stain repellency are vital.

And even in the California regulation, derogations mean that although PFAS will be banned from 1st Jan 2025 (with an earlier ban for kid’s items) along with the expected exemptions for fire firefighters and the like, there is a derogation for ‘outdoor apparel for severe wet conditions’ that’s in place until 1st Jan 2028 – provided they’re labelled with a “contains PFAS label”.

The short-chain so-called C4 PFAS chemistry, which is manufactured by electrofluorination, is currently not regulated in the EU.

So, although the optimism of Fox and other suppliers of PFAS-free fabrics, membranes and chemicals for durable water repellency may be a little too early, led by new regulations and organisations such as Bluesign and ZDHC, the noose is now tightening more quickly around the use of existing PFAS chemistry used in water and oil repellent textiles.

This article is republished from Eco Textile News under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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