Impact of the PFAS regulation in the garment industry

In this insight article, we will take a close look at PFAS and how regulation of them affects the garment industry.

PFAS are a form of DWR coating, which is short for Durable Water Repellent. DWR’s are used to make clothing water and oil resistant. They’re commonly used for outdoor clothes and sportswear and vital for certain workwear and medical applications. PFAS (Perfluoroalkyl chemicals) are a family of synthetic chemicals that have been used as DWR coating for years. Although effective, they’re toxic and therefore their usage has been targeted by the European Union.

In 2009, the EU restricted the use of some derivatives of the PFAS. The EU continually updates their directives and are looking to eliminate the use of so called forever chemicals, which is a nickname for PFAS. The reason is that these chemicals are not naturally broken down. When released in the environment, PFAS will remain and contaminate groundwaters, surface waters and soils. The bioaccumulation of certain PFAS has also shown to cause serious health conditions.

Figure 1. Typical PFAS exposure pathways (Source: European Environment Agency)

The updated directives from the EU forces garment and textile companies to change their DWR coatings. C8-based PFAS (they’re called C8 because of their chemical chain length) were restricted a long time ago. The industry reacted by moving on to C6-based PFAS (also known as short chain PFAS). The latest restrictions imposed by the EU target the C6-based PFAS. Let’s take a look at the consequences of this.

Companies who have been using C6-based PFAS now have to use different substances to protect fabrics from water and oil. This change in the coating may unveil new challenges, such as the appearance of mould on garments during transportation.

A manufacturer just like that got in touch with us at Absortech in the beginning of 2020. They had started to get mould on their garments during shipping from Asia to Europe. What had changed? The coating they put on the clothes in order to comply with the new EU directives.

“The first cargo shipment after changing the coating on the clothes, arrived in Europe in very bad condition. Clothes were full of mould. We never experienced those damages before and needed to understand why it happened to avoid it in following shipments.”

– Supply Chain Manager

Our new client had used silica gel pouches inside the polybags. Still, the garments arrived at their destination in poor condition, causing unexpected costs and delays. We were eager to help out and started by asking some questions:

  • Are silica gel pouches not effective against the growth of mould?
  • Do we need a bigger silica gel pouch inside the polybag?
  • Will an AbsorGel® pouch avoid those moisture damages?

A fake feeling of protection

The company, a leading manufacturer of workwear in Europe, used to protect their clothes with small silica gel pouches. They packed the clothing in polybags and fit them in cardboard boxes for transportation and storage. The level of protection that the silica gel pouches provided seemed enough to protect the clothes from moisture damages.

But silica gel did not play the lead role in their moisture protection setup.

Silica gel pouches
Figure 2. Silica gel pouches

The DWR coating of their clothes, containing PFAS, was the reason their clothes were protected from mould during transport. This indirect protection collapsed with the change in coating to comply with the new EU directives. Therefore, silica gel pouches were not effective against all moisture damages, causing a fake feeling of protection.

Peace of Moisture Mind® in action

The situation required a quick response to avoid damages to following shipments. Our experts in Asia visited the production plants to audit the conditions of the products before shipping. They also looked for possible actions to improve general conditions. After our audit, a list of corrective actions to apply and a dimensioning of our moisture absorbers, a test in real conditions was conducted. We wanted to analyze the shipping procedure and the performance of our desiccants, AbsorGel® Pouch D.

Our AbsorGel® Pouch D is made of calcium chloride with 94% purity and starch. It’s effective at absorbing the excess moisture inside crates, cartons, polybags and other types of packaging.

The amount of water absorbed by the AbsorGel® pouches revealed that the garments had been under-protected. The amount of water absorbed by the AbsorGel® pouches exceeded the maximum capacity of the silica gel desiccants. Most likely it was the DWR coating that used to contain PFAS that protected the garments in the past.

The AbsorTest™ shows that AbsorGel® pouches kept the relative humidity inside the polybags at harmless levels. No trace of mould was found upon arrival. The new desiccants also had lot of capacity left, amounting to extra protection in case of unexpected events, such as extended storage time or accidental changes in transport conditions.

Humidity Report
Figure 3. AbsorGel® Pouch D kept the humidity in harmless levels for the garments during the shipment

Read more about the benefits of exchanging silica gel for AbsorGel® in our previous insight.

The ban on PFAS can affect different industries

As the European Union moves toward the elimination of all-non-essential uses of PFAS, many companies will encounter new challenges. Industries apart from clothing or garment manufacturing may find similar problems while they adapt their companies to the new directives.

“The approach of AbsorAudit and AbsorTest is suitable for all companies because it is a methodology adaptable to all segments, products and type of packaging. It is based on observation, measuring, monitoring and our 25 years of expertise”

– Fredrik Lindberg, Regional Director for Nordics.

AbsorGel® is proven to be efficient protection from moisture damages during transportation of garments or fabrics. It is also a suitable choice for companies looking to protect their brand and the environment.

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