In the aftermath of the Thinx lawsuit, an interview with the Green Science Policy Institute on PFAS
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 period 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 and found in pretty much everything. One CDC report found PFAS in the blood of 97% of Americans.
Obviously, desiring period underwear that are free of toxic chemicals is something we at Sway are all about, and we've received a lot of questions from Sway newsletter readers related to the presence of PFAS and other harmful chemicals in all the products (not just period underwear) they use, particularly in response to the Thinx period underwear 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.
This newsletter’s purpose is to be an extremely informative interview with Rebecca Fuoco, MPH, Director 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 an extensive 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 production process 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/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.
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?
We at Sway want to give Rebecca Fuoco, MPH another HUGE thanks for sharing her time and our space with us.
Sway’s Go To
Safe period underwear should be accessible to everybody, and while there are a growing number of period underwear bands, ModiBodi is creating natural products for all of our readers who have menstrual cycles. We at Sway LOVE ModiBodi for producing period underwear that is GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified. GOTS is the world leading textile processing standard for organic fibres- and ModiBodi using certified organic cotton creates PFAS free period undwear.
ModiBodi is also Sway’s Go To because not only are their period underwear use certified organic cotton, they also have an emphasis on producing sustainable period underwear.Their website offers fully vegan panties, as well as offers a biography on the female manager of their organic wool farm production partner!
It also helps that ModiBodi has tons of cute styles for their leak proof underwear with a moisture wicking layer that can control ordor that can naturally occur in the menstrual cycle.
No Matter What You Buy
As we as consumers try to navigate finding the best period underwear brands or any products with recycled materials, organic materials, and free of toxic chemicals, it is hard to know where to start. There’s so many brands to choose from, and it’s hard for us as consumers to know what natural products are free of harmful substances and serve as non toxic alternatives to products we use every day. Pfas exposure and exposure to other substances that serve as a detriment to human health is something we all want to avoid, and as we wait for a sustainable system to clearly mark what is really in the products we use, we at Sway will continue to try and give guidance and find what other products are non toxic, eco friendly, and can fit all of our different lifestyles.