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Flame-Resistant Workwear & PFAS: Balancing Safety, Health, and Durability

As increasing attention turns to the safety and environmental implications of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), their presence in protective workwear has become a significant concern. With questions swirling around about the potential health effects of PFAS, the safety of FR workwear has come under scrutiny. This blog post will address some of the often-asked questions about PFAS in FR workwear.


What are PFAS?  

PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals used in various industries worldwide since the 1940's. Renowned for their ability to resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water, these substances can be found in various products, from non-stick cookware and food packaging to water repellents and, importantly for our discussion, clothing.


Why are PFAS used in some fabrics and clothing? 

PFAS have been used in textile finishing for a few reasons: 

  • Water and Stain Resistance: PFAS are hydrophobic and oleophobic, meaning they repel both water and oils. As a result, they're used to create high-performance, water-resistant, and stain-resistant finishes on textiles, including clothing, upholstery, and carpets. 
  • Durability: PFAS are incredibly resilient and resist degradation, which can help improve the longevity of the finish on the textile product. They can withstand high temperatures, resist chemical interactions, and have excellent stability, which means that textiles treated with them can maintain their performance characteristics for a long time. 
  • Ease of Cleaning: Because of their water- and oil-repellent properties, textiles treated with PFAS are easier to clean. Stains don't set in as easily and can be removed with less effort.  


What are the potential health impacts of PFAS?

Over the past few years, concerns about the potential health effects of prolonged PFAS exposure have grown. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), studies suggest that exposure to PFAS may lead to increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, decreased vaccine response, increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, and slight decreases in infant birth weights. Some studies have also suggested links between PFAS exposure and cancer, but more research is needed to confirm these findings.


Can clothing lead to PFAS exposure?

Research on this topic is ongoing, but it is believed that people can be exposed to PFAS through their clothing, primarily through ingestion or inhalation of PFAS particles that may be released from clothing containing the chemicals.


Are there PFAS-free alternatives for FR workwear?

Yes! With rising concerns about PFAS, manufacturers have developed PFAS-free fabric alternatives for FR workwear. PFAS-free flame-resistant fabrics are a growing market trend toward safer and more environmentally friendly workwear options.


How can exposure to PFAS from FR workwear be reduced?  

  1. Purchase PFAS-free workwear from a brand you trust that uses OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certified FR fabrics.
  1. If you are not sure whether your workwear is PFAS-free, some measures can be taken to reduce exposure. These include wearing base layers under FR workwear, properly washing the garments to reduce PFAS levels, and practicing good industrial hygiene to minimize potential ingestion or inhalation of PFAS particles.


OEKO-TEX® has issued a general ban on the use of perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS/PFC) in textiles, leather and footwear for the STANDARD 100, LEATHER STANDARD and ECO PASSPORT certifications. 

Learn more about OEKO-TEX® 2023 regulation updates here.


In conclusion, while PFAS have been used in many types of products and materials for many years, the potential health effects warrant attention. As the industry moves forward, the development of PFAS-free industrial uniforms is expected to grow. LAPCO FR™ is committed to supplying safer options for workers in high-risk environments now and in the future with innovations that are up to date with safety developments. Contact us for more information.

Stay tuned for more updates and advancements in FR workwear.