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CALIFORNIA – A US study discovered potentially dangerous PFAS chemicals in school uniforms. Researchers tested 30 uniforms and found the ‘forever chemicals’ in all of them – and in higher levels than weather-resistant outdoor wear, the segment with which chemicals are normally associated. The study was published in Environmental Science and Technology.

PFAS—per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances – are often known as “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down. These chemicals are added to products to make them waterproof, stain resistant, or non-stick. However, they have been linked to health issues, including immune system suppression, heightened risk of certain cancers, liver disease, and neurodevelopmental problems. The regulatory authorities have been monitoring such chemicals for years but action to clamp down on their use has been slow.

“PFAS are industrial chemicals that contain multiple bonds between carbon and fluorine atoms,” said Dr. Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. “The strong carbon-fluorine bonds give PFAS useful chemical properties for making products oil-, stain-, and water-repellent or non-stick. But these bonds also make them extremely persistent—they never break down in the environment.

“Some PFAS have been associated [with] diverse health harms, including cancer, obesity, fertility problems and pregnancy complications. They’ve also recently been linked to more severe COVID-19 outcomes.”

School uniforms will be treated with such chemicals to imbue them with stain resistance qualities. However, Marta Venier, PhD, an environmental chemist and assistant professor at Indiana University in Bloomington and senior author of the new study, said: “We think parents would rather wash their clothes more than expose their kids to toxic chemicals.”

She added: “All of these clothes that we targeted are polo shirts and khaki pants, the usual uniforms, but they were specifically marketed as a stain resistant.

“So we were selective in picking clothes that were labelled as stain resistant. And what we found was that PFAS were present in all of these items.”

The researchers looked for total fluorine levels in the products to indicate the presence of PFAS. Products made from 100 per cent cotton contained more than synthetic products, the likely reason being that synthetic items have a higher water and stain resistance.

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