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Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Textile and Leather

UL Solutions experts answer questions from the fashion, textile and leather industry about PFAS, testing methods, and regulations in global markets.

Woman with raincoat.

Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals often used in the textile industry for specific characteristics such as breathability, oil/water/dirt repellency, thermal stability and durability throughout the washing and dry cleaning processes.

PFAS have been widely regulated globally in recent years. It can be challenging to understand what regulations are applicable to your products in your target markets, and how to achieve compliance. In response, UL Solutions experts have answered the most frequently asked questions from the softline industry.

What are PFAS?

PFAS is a large, complex group of manufactured chemicals—more than 10,000 substances. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines PFAS as any substance that contains at least one fully fluorinated methyl or methylene carbon atom. The general properties of this class of chemicals include environmental persistence and mobility and the ability to be transported over large distances in the environment. Some PFAS chemicals are bio-accumulative, and other endpoints include reprotoxicity, immunotoxicity, and neurotoxicity.

Why are they banned?

PFAS chemicals are bioaccumulative, meaning they can build up over time. They are introduced into both humans and animals through the environment, soil, water, and air, or as a dietary intake from contaminated food and water. PFAS are also persistent, they will remain with us for a long time. This alone does not require them to be banned. However, PFAS chemicals are linked to various health risks in humans as well as animals. These risks include cancer, hormone disruption, liver and thyroid issues, interference with vaccine effectiveness, reproductive harm, and abnormal fetal. For these reasons, we are seeing trends in regulations globally.

Where can they be found?

PFAS chemicals are found in a wide variety of consumer products including by not limited to apparel, footwear, carpets and rugs, home furnishing, and upholstered furniture.

In which countries/regions are PFAS banned/restricted specifically to the softlines industry?

PFAS regulations are rapidly changing globally. Specific to the softlines industry, the United States has state-based regulations that focus on PFAS as a class of chemicals, rather than specific PFAS. Other countries and regions have current legislation that focuses on a select group of PFAS. A summary is found below:

Location Regulation Scope
EU Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP) Regulation (EU) 2019/1021 Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and its salts and related substances, Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and its salts and related substances
EU Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) C9-C14 Perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids (PFCA) and PFCA-related substances
USA Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse (TPCH) PFAS
USA Various State Laws PFAS
Canada Prohibition of Certain Toxic Substances Regulations (SOR/2012-285) PFOS, PFOA, C9-C20 PFCAs
China 中国严格限制的有毒化学品名录 (List of Toxic Chemicals Strictly Restricted in China) PFOS and its salts and related substances
Japan CSCL (Chemical Substances Control Law) PFOS and its salts and related substances, PFOA and its salts and related substances
Propose to ban PFHxS
New Zealand Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO Act) PFOS and its salts and related substances, PFOA and its salts and related substances
Propose to ban Perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS)
Does the European Union restrict all PFAS?

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) published a restriction proposal in February 2023, proposing a ban on 10,000 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including precursors. If adopted, the ban will be implemented under REACH Regulation (EU) N0 1907/2006. The regulation will impact several industries including but not limited to the textile industry and packaging industry.

Is the proposal restricting all PFAS in the EU also valid for the UK?

Due to Brexit, the UK will have its own “UK REACH” Legislation that may diverge from EU REACH. Regarding restrictions on PFAS in the UK, there is a proposal done by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Interestingly, under this proposal, the field of application may be different with the possibility of exemptions for fluoropolymers, and the number of PFAS substances covered by the restrictions may be fewer. Under the UK proposal, substances must contain at least one fully fluorinated methyl carbon atom or two or more contiguous perfluorinated methylene groups. In the EU, compounds with a single methylene carbon are also within the scope of the restriction proposal.

Can you provide an update on EPA's Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) recordkeeping and reporting rule?

On October 11, 2023, US EPA finalized the reporting and recordkeeping requirements for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances under Section 8(a)(7) of the Toxic Substances Control Act. The rule established a one-time reporting requirement for any entity that has manufactured or imported for commercial purposes at any time since 2011 a chemical substance, mixture, or article containing PFAS.

The rule does not include a list of specifically identified substances. Rather, it applies to PFAS as a chemical category defined by molecular structure. More specifically, the rule defines PFAS as any chemical substance or mixture containing a chemical substance that structurally contains at least one of the following three sub-structures:

  1. R-(CF2)-CF(R′)R″, where both the CF2 and CF moieties are saturated carbons.
  2. R-CF2OCF2-R′, where R and R′ can either be F, O, or saturated carbons.
  3. CF3C(CF3)R′R″, where R′ and R″ can either be F or saturated carbons.

The rule requires reporting by entities that have manufactured PFAS or imported PFAS or articles containing PFAS between Jan. 1, 2011, and Dec. 31, 2022.

Unlike other TSCA reporting rules, the PFAS reporting rule includes no de minimus concentrations or production volume thresholds below which reporting is not required. Furthermore, it includes no exemptions for polymers, impurities, research and development, or small businesses.

The information to be reported includes:

  • Company and plant site information
  • Chemical-specific information
  • Categories of use
  • Manufactured amounts
  • Byproduct reporting
  • Environmental and health effects
  • Worker exposure data
  • Disposal data

All information must be submitted during the applicable submission periods which run from Nov. 12, 2024, to Nov. 10, 2025, for small businesses that are subject to reporting based solely upon the importation of PFAS-containing articles, and from Nov. 12, 2024, to May 8, 2025, for all other entities subject to the reporting requirements.

Submissions must be prepared and sent electronically to EPA using a PFAS reporting tool in the Agency’s Central Data Exchange. Also, submitters must maintain records that document information reported under this rule for a period of five years beginning on the last day of the submission period.

What is the capability among service providers to measure total fluorine? How about the capability to test single per/polyfluoroalkyl substances and total content according to the limits of 25/250 parts per billion (ppb)?

Some laboratories can test for total fluorine. However, research on the detection limit for total fluorine in consumer products does not show levels as low as 25/250 ppb. The detection limit for total fluorine is typically 10 to 20 mg/kg. It is not known if any laboratory can test all 10,000 targeted PFAS substances using liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS) or gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). Like UL Solutions, laboratories will have a list of PFAS they can test for as “targeted” substances. For these targeted substances it is possible to reach limits of 25 ppb as a single targeted substance and 250 ppb for the sum of target substances.

Are there test methods that measure total organic fluorine derived from PFAS that exclude other substances containing fluorine? What is the specific method?

Currently, there are no standard methods. Unfortunately, when screening for total fluorine the methods do not determine if the fluorine is specific to PFAS or another type of fluorinated substance.

What is the difference between total fluorine screening and total organic fluorine?

Total fluorine (TF) determines the amount of fluorine in the sample, both organic and inorganic. UL Solutions uses combustion ion chromatography (CIC) to determine the total fluorine content. This method requires that the sample is placed on a ceramic boat which is then introduced to a combustion oven. The gases are collected and separated on an ion exchange column and measured by conductivity. Likewise, the same sample can be extracted with solvent and the solvent analyzed using CIC. The result is extractable organic fluorine or EOF. Some interpret EOF as total organic fluorine, assuming the total organic fluorine is 100% soluble in the extract.

If I test for total fluorine, do I still need targeted PFAS testing?

This will be dependent on the regulations and/or the brand’s Restricted Substances List (RSL), and the outcome of the test. For example, if you are testing to confirm compliance with California regulations that ban PFAS in paper, paperboard, and plant-based food contact packaging, and the total fluorine content is <100 mg/kg, no further testing would be required. If textile materials comply with both California and EU regulations, testing will be required for both total fluorine at <100 mg/kg starting from January 1, 2025, as well as extractable targeted PFAS substances to comply with EU regulations with a criteria of 25 ppb individual PFAS and 250 ppm for the sum of the PFAS analyzed, as the total fluorine content is not sensitive enough to reach the criteria found in the EU regulations.

What does the test method landscape look like for PFAS?

There are various strategies for testing, including total fluorine and targeted PFAS depending on the regulation. The softlines industry refers to either EN 14582:2016 or ASTM D7359:2023 for total fluorine analysis. For select PFAS analysis, the industry refers to EN ISO 23702-1:2023 or EN 17681-1:2022 (under revision prEN 17681-1:2023 Draft) & 17681-2:2022. If the total fluorine result is above the criteria of the regulations or specified RLS whether it is a brand RSL, or an Industry RSL, an investigation with your supply chain as to where the fluorine is coming from may be needed. Also, the total fluorine screening does not ensure that you meet the stricter requirements for targeted PFAS set forth by country-specific regulations such as REACH or POP regulations.

How can UL Solutions help?

UL Solutions can help you navigate PFAS regulations and mitigate compliance risks with our broad portfolio of chemical management and advisory services.

We can assist you in the development of a Restricted Substance List (RSL) to reduce the risk of non-compliant goods to the market and we also offer support and training to help you stay ahead of regulatory changes and upcoming restrictions for PFAS.

With our help manufacturers, retailers and suppliers can more easily navigate PFAS regulations and gain confidence in their ability to bring compliant products to market.

PFAS testing services for consumer products

UL Solutions can assist retailers and suppliers in finding the best testing and communications strategies for PFAS compliance along the supply chain.

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