Fluorocarbon Chemistry is in Question But What Are the Alternatives?
The Greenpeace report “Chemistry for Any Weather” sheds new light on the persistence of PFCs in waterproof apparel. This wake up call for the textile and sportswear industry was the subject of a panel discussion on the impact of the report, the evolution of chemical standards and the actions the industry should take. The excerpts of the panel discussion – PFC Round Table – held on 12 November 2012 during “Performance Days” at Munich are reproduced below, The panelists were : Sophie Bramel (Technical Editor, WSA), moderator, Charline Ducas (Textile Sustainability Specialist, TextileExchange), Nicole Nedelev (Product Development, Sympatex Technologies) and Peter Waeber (CEO, bluesign). PFC is the short form of Perfluorinated Compounds – also called Fluorochemicals)
PFC chemistry: what’s the situation?
The quest for alternative DWR finishes is far from new in the sportswear industry. Research on alternative solutions has been underway for years. Alternative water repellent finishes include: dendrimers, silicone, wax, parafin, polyurethane… and the replacement of the traditional DWR finish based on C8 chemistry by C6 chemistry, a short chain version of the same chemistry. PFOS weres banned in Europe in 2008 and since 2006 the chemicals industry has been working on phasing out PFOA (PFOA Stewardship program). It is useful to note that Greenpeace found no PFOS in any of the garments tested.
What does the report say?
- Greenpeace demands that all PFCs be banned. This means phasing out not only C8, but also C6 compounds and fluorotelomers (a precursor of PFC chemistry) because of their suspected persistence in the environment, human body, animals, seeds, etc… Greenpeace further believes that short chain PFCs can reach groundwater more easily because they bond less well to particles.
- The organisation (Greenpeace) tested 14 waterproof or water-resistant garments, 11 were made with a waterproof breathable membrane (5 GoreTex, 1 Sympatex, 1 Dermizax, 4 private label products). PFCs were found in all 14 items, even the two labelled as PFC free.
- Greenpeace helped fund a research project on alternative finishes at Berlin University of Applied Science in 2012.
- In a section called “Tips for Consumers”: the organisation warns consumers to beware of textile labels.
Question 1 : The Greenpeace report indicates that traces of PFCs have been found in garments, some of which are below existing standards. This raises the first question: Are current standards as stringent as they should be?
Sophie Bramel (WSA) : The levels of PFCs found in the report conform to current standards. We also need to keep in mind that PFOA has not yet been banned from industrial processes.
Peter Waeber (bluesign) : Although different scale units in the bluesign system substances list or BSSL (all values defined in mg/kg) and in the Greenpeace report (values reported in µ/m2) do not allow direct comparison, it can be stated that all test results in the report related to fluorochemicals meet the BSSL limits.