In the aftermath of the Thinx lawsuit, an interview with the Green Science Policy Institute on PFAS

Posted by Jennifer Easton on

It's only Jan. 27 and, already, 2023 has been a huge year for PFAS. 

With Thinx settling a class-action lawsuit citing the presence of PFAS in their underwear and 3M's long-awaited announcement to discontinue the use of PFAS by 2025, consumer awareness and media attention on this class of chemicals is reaching an all-time high. 

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), nicknamed "forever chemicals," do not fully degrade from living tissue or the environment, and are associated with health issues like thyroid disease, asthma and certain cancers. They're present in many common consumer goods, including home furnishings like non-stick cookware and carpet, and also show up across our environment, in rainwater, drinking water and soil. In other words: they're pretty ubiquitous. One CDC report found PFAS in the blood of 97% of Americans. 

We've received a lot of questions from Sway newsletter readers related to the presence of PFAS in the products they use, particularly in response to the Thinx lawsuit—and thought it was high time to consult the Green Science Policy Institute

Since its founding in 2008, the Green Science Policy Institute's research and policy work has helped lead the movement to keep chemicals of concern out of consumer products and building materials across the world. They've defined PFAS as one of their six classes of harmful chemicals, and for years, have been advocating for stronger policies to reduce human exposure. 

Read on for an extremely informative interview with Rebecca Fuoco, MPHDirector of Science Communications at the Green Science Policy Institute, on how you can find products made without PFAS, and what steps brands need to be taking right now in order to protect consumers. She's no stranger to this topic: her writing on PFAS has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and The Hill. Thank you, Rebecca! 


How can consumers assess whether a product is PFAS-free? (e.g., Is there a reliable third-party certification that brands can achieve, or testing body for PFAS that they can work with, that the Green Science Policy Institute recommends?)

The only way to know with certainty whether a product is PFAS-free is to test it in a laboratory. However, since that’s not practical for most people, a good rule of thumb is to avoid products advertised as waterproof or stain-resistant. Consumers can also email or call manufacturers directly to ask if their products contain PFAS. You should be wary of answers like “our products meet all safety requirements”or “our products are PFOA- or C8-free,” which do not provide sufficient information. Finally, our Institute maintains a growing list of PFAS-free products.


Is it possible for manufacturers to create products that are entirely free of PFAS, given their ubiquity? Is brand language that states “no intentionally added PFAS” more accurate than “PFAS-free?”

Manufacturers can and should work with the entirety of their supply chain to ensure no intentional or accidental PFAS are in their products. (See answer with manufacturer guidance further down.)


From your vantage point, what’s the best case scenario for PFAS regulation? It appears individual states are leading the charge, but could a federal ban from the EPA be passed any time soon? 

PFAS should be regulated as a whole class–rather than one-by-one–and limited to essential uses. An essential use would be one in which PFAS in a product is “necessary for health, safety or is critical for the functioning of society” and where feasible alternatives are not available. For example, is using PFAS in an attempt to make living room furniture more stain-resistant necessary for health, safety, or the functioning of society? Of course not. This approach can be carried out by government and businesses alike. Indeed, there has been progress in government bodies banning the entire class of PFAS for use in certain product categories (e.g., food packaging, cosmetics, textiles). This should be expanded to all nonessential uses.


With the high visibility of recent lawsuits, from Thinx to Simply Orange and 3M, do you expect to see many more brands work to address PFAS in their products even before additional regulations hit? 

Brands would be smart to stay ahead of the curve by eliminating the whole class of PFAS in all of their products as soon as possible. This would not only help companies prepare for mandates, but also help them avoid having to play chemical whack-a-mole as newer PFAS turn out to be as harmful as the older ones. 


How should brands go about addressing and phasing out PFAS in their products, from addressing it in their supply chain/manufacturing to testing? 

A good first step is creating an inventory of all intentional ingredients, residuals, and impurities present. This can be done using enterprise supply chain management tools, disclosure initiatives, and compliance declarations. A third party assessor or certifier like ChemForward, GreenScreen, or Tox Services can help you through this process. When necessary, products and components can be sent to laboratories with expertise in analytical PFAS testing, such as SGS AXYS, Eurofins Scientific, Galbraith Laboratories, Inc., Vista Analytical, or ALS Global.

This process allows companies to track down and eliminate not only PFAS, but other harmful chemicals. You can read more in-depth guidance on selecting healthier materials on our blog


Are there any other reputable resources on PFAS that you think consumers should read or reference in order to stay up to date or educate themselves? 

Our Institute has a four-minute video that can give you a solid introduction to PFAS. To stay up-to-date on the latest research and policy developments, you can check out PFAS Central

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