PFAS - Status report on perennial pollutants in the textile industry

Written by: Enora Gelot



Time to read 8 min

In recent months, PFAS or “eternal pollutants” have been in the spotlight in France and Europe. For good reason, they are found in many of our everyday objects, starting with waterproof clothing. Lagoped is partnering with Sympatex, a German alternative to waterproof membranes used in several Lagoped garments, to share key information on PFAS.

What are PFAS and what are the challenges for human health and the environment?

PFAS* are synthetic chemicals , grouped under the acronym per- and polyfluoroalkyls. Invented in the 1930s, they have been widely used in industrial and consumer products since the 1950s, including textiles, kitchenware, food packaging, cosmetics, medical devices and electronics, due to of their unique properties such as resistance to heat, water and oils.

These substances, often called "perennial pollutants", are extremely resistant to degradation , hence their name. Their resistance to degradation as well as their toxicity are the main concerns surrounding PFAS. Once in the environment, they can spread through water, soil and groundwater, which can lead to exposure through drinking water, food or dust. The steady increase in PFAS emissions worldwide, especially in highly developed countries, has led to a dangerous accumulation of these substances in living organisms and the environment. Prolonged exposure to certain PFAS can have a negative impact on human health, including:

An increased risk of certain cancers, such as kidney and testicular cancers.

Changes in cholesterol and liver enzyme levels.

Effects on the immune system and response to certain vaccines.

An increased risk of preeclampsia or high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Slight changes in babies' birth weight.

The adverse effects of PFAS on the environment include:

Accumulation in wildlife, leading to adverse effects on animal health.

Contamination of soil and water resources, making them unfit for use.

Disruption of ecosystems due to the persistent and bioaccumulative nature of these chemicals.

Challenges in waste management and remediation efforts due to their resistance to degradation.

As highlighted in the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, consumers in Europe are currently widely exposed to chemicals found in countless everyday items, and initiatives to limit our exposure to these potentially harmful are more necessary than ever. According to experts, approximately 4.4 million tons of PFAS will contaminate our ecosystems over the next 30 years if no action is taken.

PFCs (per- and polyfluorochemicals) and PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are terms often used interchangeably, although PFAS is the preferred term in science and legislation.

What are the latest regulatory developments in France and Europe?

PFAS regulations in Europe

PFAS and major concerns about them have been on the agenda for a long time. In Europe, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have been actively investigating concerns for several years and are responsible for adjustments to European legislation. Some Member States are also evaluating and investigating the topic, which has led to a formal proposal to ECHA.

In January 2023, the authorities of Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden submitted a legislative proposal to ECHA. After years of discussion, the proposal sets out the path for the EU to ban more than 10,000 persistent chemicals. The goal is to significantly reduce PFAS emissions and protect humans and the environment from their harmful effects.

The restriction will have major impacts on the sports and outdoor industry, in which membranes made from the PFAS polymer PTFE are often used. The ban applies to the entire life cycle of PFAS, including production, use and placing on the market, and requires the substances to be substituted in thousands of goods and ultimately removed from the market altogether. .

The restriction of PFAS will be presented under the REACH regulation, a comprehensive set of rules in the EU considered the most advanced chemical legislation in the world since its adoption in 2006.

ECHA is expected to write its opinion on the proposal by the second half of 2024, which is set to be one of the most important events of the year in terms of EU legislation. EU. The Agency's findings will then be used by the European Commission to formulate the final text and the official document is expected to be published in 2025 (although it may be delayed due to the complexity of the file).

European companies should start implementing the restrictions from 2025 and should be ready to completely eliminate the use of PFAS in their products and processes by 2027-2028.

PFAS regulations in France

Just days after national authorities from Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden submitted a proposal to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) for an EU-wide restriction EU on the production and use of PFAS, officially launching the process of developing restrictions, French authorities (notably the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion) have published the country's first action plan specifically focused on PFAS , recognizing the serious consequences of these “perennial pollutants” on human health and the environment as well as the urgent need to reduce their production.

The “Ministerial Action Plan on PFAS” is based on 6 areas of action:

Standards to guide public action;

Introduce a Europe-wide ban to eliminate the risks associated with the use or marketing of PFAS;

Improve knowledge of emissions and environmental impregnation to reduce public exposure;

Significantly reduce industrial emissions;

Ensure total transparency of available information;

Integrate actions on PFAS into the micropollutants plan.

Following this action plan, the National Assembly presented a legislative proposal on April 4, 2024 to protect the population from the risks of PFAS.

Who will be affected by the blanket PFAS ban and when will it apply?

The ban covers all PFAS, including fluoropolymers such as PTFE, and is intended to be a comprehensive ban with only a few exceptions. This means that products containing PFAS will no longer be able to be manufactured or placed on the market and will affect imports from non-EU countries. This will apply 18 months after entry into force.

In clothing and footwear, this will generally affect all applications, with individual exceptions for personal protective equipment (PPE). These applications will benefit from an additional transition period of 5 to 12 years, meaning the ban is expected to apply from 2031 to 2038.

Currently, PFAS-free alternatives exist for most, but not all, applications. Many in the textile industry are already finding good substitutes for PFAS on the market, for example PES membranes, but some companies specializing in textiles for PPE, for example for professional firefighters, might take some time to find alternatives offering a satisfactory level of functionality. The flexible implementation approach gives them time to find these alternatives.

What are the solutions and alternatives to PFAS?

As a replacement for these extremely risky chemicals often used in other membranes, the Sympatex membrane is made from polyetherester, a chain of polyester and polyether molecules. It is therefore environmentally friendly and gentle on the skin. The performance of fluorine-free polyester membranes and PTFE-based membranes is very similar, in terms of windproofness, breathability and waterproofing.

In addition, Sympatex products are fully recyclable, just like a PET bottle. Not only is the membrane polyester based, but also the fabrics used to create the final product, the laminate, are polyester based. This mono-material concept allows us to easily return all laminates to the closed textile loop at the end of their life cycle and thus reduce textile waste.

To guarantee our environmentally friendly approach and our compliance with European regulations on chemicals (REACH), Sympatex carries out annual tests under the OEKO-TEX® STANDARD 100 label on membranes, tapes, laminates and components from manufacturers of textiles to ensure compliance with the latest REACH list of dangerous substances.

Using a fluorocarbon-free, eco-friendly DWR (durable water repellent) finish for textiles is a no-brainer. Since 2008, only fluorocarbon-free DWR has been used for Sympatex products.

Sympatex is listed as an evaluated alternative to PFAS membranes on the Chemsec Marketplace, a platform that brings together all innovations in green chemistry in one place, making it easier for businesses to choose safer solutions.

On a political level, Sympatex has been campaigning intensively for many years for a ban on PTFE and fluorine-based water-repellent coatings in the textile industry . Playing an active role in this process and protecting the environment and people from these substances is an issue that is particularly close to our hearts.


to watch

“Dark Waters” is a drama film based on a true story, directed by Todd Haynes. It recounts the fierce fight of lawyer Robert Bilott (played by Mark Ruffalo) against the multinational DuPont, accused of polluting the drinking water of Parkersburg, West Virginia, with toxic chemicals. Upon discovering the extent of the environmental and health damage caused by PFOA, a chemical used in the manufacturing of Teflon, Bilott puts his career and personal life on the line to reveal the truth and obtain justice for the victims. The film highlights the dangers of "forever chemicals" and the importance of corporate responsibility to public health and the environment.

In her video, Camille Etienne, French environmental activist, addresses the dangers of PFAS, these “eternal pollutants” omnipresent in our daily lives. She explains how these chemicals, used in various products such as waterproof clothing, food packaging and cooking utensils, persist in the environment and accumulate in our bodies, causing serious health risks such as cancers, hormonal disruptions and fertility problems. Camille Etienne calls for collective awareness and urgent action to ban these substances and promote safer alternatives , highlighting the need to protect both our health and our planet.

To listen

The “Forever Chemicals” podcast, created by the producers of “Outdoor Minimalist,” is a ten-episode series that aims to answer critical questions about PFAS. Episodes explore what PFAS are, why they are dangerous, and how the outdoor industry can move forward without using these persistent chemicals . Through this series, listeners will learn about the origin, rise, and now phase-out of “forever chemicals” PFAS. The podcast seeks to raise awareness of the importance of combating PFAS pollution and to encourage producers to prioritize the health of the planet and human beings.

Le Temps du Débat, a France Culture program, presented by Emmanuel Laurentin, devotes a program to PFAS, or “eternal pollutants”. The presenter and his guests, Pierre Labadie (Environmental chemist and research director at CNRS), Pauline Cervan (Doctor of pharmacy and toxicologist involved in environmental health at Générations Futures), and Pierre Athanaze (Vice-President in charge of environment in the metropolis of Lyon) raise the question of the management of these eternal pollutants.

to read

PFAS perennial pollutants

ChemSec's report, "The Top 12 PFAS Producers in the World and the Staggering Societal Costs of PFAS Pollution," highlights the world's leading producers of PFAS and the societal costs of PFAS pollution. It identifies twelve major companies responsible for the production of PFAS, chemicals that are persistent and harmful to the environment and human health. The report estimates costs associated with PFAS pollution, including health care costs, environmental impacts, and cleanup costs.

ChemSec is a non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting sustainable chemical innovation and reducing the use of hazardous substances in industry.

An article written in collaboration with the company Sympatex.

Lagoped is a partner of Sympatex to guarantee its clothing high-performance and environmentally friendly waterproofing.