What is the secret behind the hectic race to find alternatives to the chemicals that abound in our homes?

  • Christine Rowe
  • Business Technology Correspondence

kitchen utensils

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Take a look around your home at the many products that make everyday life more comfortable and easier. Have you ever wondered why food does not stick to your favorite pan? Why does a bag of corn cooked in the microwave not absorb fat? Or why does your jacket not absorb water?

The responsibility for this is probably due to synthetic chemicals called PFAS. However, these chemicals are now across the board, and in some areas they are being completely eliminated.

The group of chemicals known as PFAS (Poly and Perfluoroalkyl Substances) is a very large group, there are more than 4,700 of these compounds based on the element fluorine.

Often called the “eternal chemical” because of its extraordinary stability and resilience, it has been found in drinking water, dust and even human blood.

So you almost certainly have PFAS in your home as well as in your body.

But in fact, as the 2019 film (Dark Waters) revealed, health problems can be serious in countries where PFAS-containing products are discarded, or the places where they are widely used.

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The film Dark Waters, starring American actor Mark Ruffalo, dealt with PFAS and its impact on human health.

These chemicals, found in a wide variety of products, from food packaging to cosmetics and furniture, have been linked to many health problems, including liver damage, kidney cancer and birth defects.

However, the consumer pressure effort alone is not sufficient to find and direct a real and effective step away from PFAS use.

Deciphering labels and names of chemical compounds is also nearly impossible for the average person, according to Jonathan Klemark, senior chemicals and business consultant at ChemSec, a Swedish nonprofit that advocates for safer use of chemicals.

“If you’re a regular consumer, it’s a very complicated topic, and it’s not usually talked about,” says Dr. Climark.

Not everyone has the time and motivation to write to manufacturers to ask if their products contain PFAS, which is what some government authorities recommend.

Some manufacturers may not even be aware that they are using the substance in their products.

Dr. Climark comments: “If we really want change, we need regulation, because that’s the only thing companies really want to respond to and act on.”

“Even the mere idea of ‚Äč‚Äčlimiting the use of the drug makes companies realize that it is something they have to work hard on to find suitable alternatives.”

These restrictions are limited so far, and in July the US state of Maine became the first state in the world to ban the sale of products containing PFAS by 2030, and the exception is when its use is considered unavoidable, which may apply to some medical products.

EU countries have also introduced restrictions on certain types and uses of PFAS. But environmentalists and some European governments are calling for restrictions on all products that use PFAS massively.

Manufacturers also want to provide more information on what alternatives they can use, and they argue that a piecemeal approach is too time consuming and allows for too many harmful alternatives.

“I definitely think there will be some kind of limitation in the next five or six years,” predicts Dr. Climark.

Members of the chemical industry community seek further consultation and guidance to successfully achieve this transformation.

The European Chemical Industries Council (Cefic) is also seeking a clearer description of what is considered a significant use of PFAS.

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Finding alternatives was easier in some industries than others, says Dr. Climark: “The textile industry has been at the forefront of finding alternatives.”

However, some companies are replacing PFAS-containing materials with other materials that are better for human health but still harmful to the planet, such as plastic clothing.

One of the innovators is OrganoClick, a Swedish company that aims to utilize chemicals more sustainably. Their OrganoTex product is an alternative to PTFE, a form of PFAS commonly used in waterproof clothing.

PTFE, also known as Teflon, has been a very useful chemical since DuPont patented it in 1941. (PTFE) is hydrophobic, so it repels water from the fabric; It is also used in non-stick coatings because it can withstand relatively high temperatures.

PTFE is so useful that NASA began using it in spacesuits and heat shields since the 1960s.

However, Martin Helberg, CEO of OrganoClick, claims that “we do not really need this universal chemical for use in specific cases, such as helping jackets withstand rain.”

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OrganoTex mimics the properties of lotus leaf, which is naturally water-repellent.

OrganoTex technology mimics the properties of lotus leaves, which are naturally water-repellent. If you have ever seen dew slide off the surface of a lily petal or cicada wing, you will see the performance of dehydration.

“We use naturally occurring water-repellent molecules that are easily biodegradable, rather than synthetic chemicals that stay forever,” says Helberg.

The OrganoTex series contains sprays, waxes and cleaning agents that keep textiles waterproof.

PTFE is also available in non-stick cookware.

According to the Environmental Center, a nonprofit environmental organization in the United States, frying pans labeled (PTFE Free) may not contain PFAS, but many products that claim to be green and nonstick may not.

Pink iron, stainless steel, and ceramic, nonstick pans may be more expensive than some PFAS-coated pots, but they are likely to last longer and be more secure.

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“Part of the problem is that the consumer needs to understand that they are not getting the exact same product … it’s a different technology, and you should probably handle a frying pan like this a little differently than the regular Teflon fryer you would normally use,” says Dr. Climark.

This may involve learning another way to clean the forehead: “Even though it does not have to be more difficult or involve a lot of work, it can still be difficult to convince consumers to buy.”

We will also need to learn how to handle alternatives to many other PFAS-containing items, such as fire-fighting foams. Non-PFAS products work differently than water-based foams when fighting oil and gas fires, but non-PFAS foams It has already been used worldwide.

Shari Franjevich is the director of the GreenScreen program, which issues licenses for the certification of products without PFAS and other chemicals.

“In countries where PFAS-free products are allowed for use at airports, such as London Heathrow, they have been well received by consumers,” says Franjevich.

“We understand that although PFAS-free products work differently from PFAS-free products, they can meet performance needs in most, if not all, cases.”

From firefighting foam to outerwear, says Dr. Climark, ; Because PFAS types are used in so many ways, a large number of alternatives will be needed to replace them: “We need a lot of research to cover all the different uses.”

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