Last year, California’s governor Gavin Newsom signed the Safer Clothes and Textiles Act into law, making it the first state to ban the sale of apparel and fabrics that contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) by 2025.
For over 50 years, PFAS have been added to textiles to create stain- and water-resistant products. They’re ubiquitous – present in everything from cleaning products to nonstick cookware, makeup, vinyl, and of course, textiles.
Research into the health and environmental impacts of PFAS began in the 1950s, but only in the 2000s did the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognize its harmful health effects. While analysis is ongoing, scientists have credible data linking PFAS exposure to various reproductive, endocrine, and developmental problems.
Although the wheels of regulation have been slow to turn, California’s ban on these “forever chemicals” in textiles is necessary for our and the planet’s welfare. As the largest economy in the US, the California regulation is anticipated to have national repercussions on textile production and disposal industries.
Now, there is a great urgency to develop sustainable and non-toxic solutions to replace PFAS-laden textiles.
The California Ban on PFAS in Textiles: Background and Scope
Starting in 2006, the EPA worked with manufacturers of two specific chemicals within the PFAS class, Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), to phase out their commercial use. This effort has been successful at eliminating these two specific chemicals from incorporation into new products. However, there are over 10,000 chemicals within the PFAS class, and PFOA and PFOS have often just been replaced with shorter-chain PFAS. These shorter-chain PFAS may not be safer for human and ecosystem health. It is therefore essential for PFAS to be regulated as a single class.
California previously banned PFAS in children’s products, firefighting foam, and paper-based food packaging. And now, beginning on January 1, 2025, the Safer Clothes and Textiles Act prohibits manufacturing, distributing, and selling textiles in California with more than 100 parts per million (ppm) of PFAS.
The next phase out period begins on January 1, 2027, when the threshold for PFAS in textiles will be lowered to 50 ppm.
As defined in the regulation, textiles include any item made in whole or part from natural, man-made, or synthetic fibers, yarns, or fabrics, such as leather, cotton, silk, jute, hemp, viscose, nylon, and polyester. The ban applies to all textiles, including apparel, accessories, handbags, backpacks, curtains, upholstery, furnishings, bedding, napkins, towels, tablecloths, and more.
California has been a consistent trailblazer in the USA’s green transition. The Safer Clothes and Textiles Act is yet another step towards sustainability with the overall goal of protecting people from the health hazards related to PFAS-treated textiles by ensuring the textile supply chain adheres to higher safety and quality standards.
Why Are PFAS Used and Why Are They a Concern?
PFAS are used to confer oil-, stain-, and water-repellency to consumer products. The advantages to this for consumers are obvious. Stain-repellent carpets are desirable for home and office use. Water-repellent jackets are in the closet of almost every American. And non-stick cookware was a revolutionary concept that made cooking and the subsequent cleaning an easier task.
However, PFAS do not readily break down in the environment. This allows them to bioaccumulate in humans and other organisms. They’re prevalent in the air, water, and soil. Some common pathways of exposure for humans include drinking water, eating food contaminated by PFAS, exposure to household products meant to be stain-resistant, and the use of personal care products like cosmetics and shampoo.
PFAS can be found in the blood of humans and animals worldwide. Their exposure has been linked to decreased fertility, developmental effects or delays in children, increased risk of some cancers, and increased risk of obesity.
Why Are PFAS a Concern in Textiles?
Clothing and textiles are the primary sources of microplastics. According to a study by researchers at Plymouth University, a single washer cycle can introduce over 700,000 microparticles into the environment. Even more staggering is research commissioned by Patagonia, which found that washing a single synthetic jacket can release 1.7 grams of microfibres.
As all these microplastics and microfibres enter the environment through waterways, they carry PFAS with them.
The manufacturing and disposal phases of the textile lifecycle are also sources of PFAS contamination. Both the manufacture of PFAS and the manufacturing of textiles with PFAS can pollute local waterways. When textiles are dumped in landfills, PFAS do not degrade and will eventually find their way to the nearby waterways and soils, leading to contamination. If textiles are incinerated, PFAS enter the air where they can be transported long distances.
Regardless of the pathway, when PFAS are released into the natural environment, they build up in the soil, land, sea, and animals, leading to a contaminated ecosystem that affects all life forms.
How to Identify Textiles Containing PFAS and Other Forever Chemicals
Some ways to check textiles for PFAS include:
- Check the manufacturers’ website to see if they have taken a proactive approach to removing PFAS from their products. Remember, PFOA and PFOS are just two of the thousands of PFAS chemicals, so their removal does not mean something is PFAS-free!
- Check out this list of PFAS-free products maintained by the Green Science Policy Institute or the National Resource Defense Council’s PFAS apparel scorecard.
Unfortunately, there is no federal requirement for companies to disclose whether products contain PFAS. If in doubt, it’s safe to assume that if the company has not labeled them as PFAS-free, then they contain PFAS. This is especially true if you find keywords like “waterproof” or “stain-repellent” on the label.
Implications for the Textile Industry and Consumers
The Safer Clothes and Textiles Act, signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom, is an essential step in addressing the health hazards of exposure to PFAS in textiles.
Starting on January 1, 2025, manufacturers, sellers, and importers of textiles and leather will be required to comply with guidelines for the inclusion of chemicals used to produce items for sale within the California market, whether those items are manufactured inside or outside the state.
This includes investigating potential replacement chemicals that have similar functional effects to PFAS, such as protectant, spot removal, or water repellent. In accordance with the Safer Clothes and Textiles Act, manufacturers must use the least toxic alternative when replacing PFAS and sign a certificate of compliance with the Safer Clothes and Textiles Act to provide retailers and distributors.
California has taken a gradual approach to its regulation of PFAS. As textiles now join the cosmetics industries in facing increased oversight, textile manufacturers, distributors, and sellers should anticipate the consequences to prepare for future downturns in the market or potential compliance problems.
According to a recent public survey, 78% of Californians favor the Act, with more than 50% saying they “strongly support” banning PFAS. Yet, while public support has been favorable, the Safer Clothing and Textiles Act has come under scrutiny.
Opponents contend that the regulations need to be revised to safeguard consumers’ interests because they omit necessary oversights of the compliance process, do not address sustainability or worker issues, and leave production processes in doubt.
Moving Towards Safer and Sustainable Textiles
The elimination of PFAS from producing high-performance fabrics and apparel has been left solely to individual brands, with few having successfully removed the chemicals from their manufacturing processes.
Patagonia, Canada Goose, and Gore-Tex are some companies still using PFAS in their products, showcasing the challenge posed to the industry as a whole. As the desire to minimize the potential health and environmental risks posed by toxic chemicals has increased, so has the emergence of new non-toxic fabrics and textiles.
For example, Renegade Plastics offers a range of polypropylene-based fabrics that are PFAS-free. These products are sustainable, and non-toxic alternatives to many textile applications.
We design our products using a bottom-up approach. We start with our base polypropylene material and then add only what is needed to achieve the final product. Each additive is screened to ensure we avoid ‘regrettable substitutions’ of products that are untested and may be found to be toxic in future research. We never use any of the chemicals on the Cradle-to-cradle Restricted Substances List.
At Renegade Plastics, we are dedicated to transforming the textiles and plastics industry. As a leading technical fabric supplier, Renegade Plastics offers a better alternative that can help textile-related businesses become more sustainable. We’re partnered with many industries to produce superior solutions for the people and the planet.
Contact us to find out more about our PFAS-free and fully recyclable coated fabrics.