Are you a global consumer goods company that wants to understand which water and oil repellent coating technologies are safe for people and the environment? In recent work, a client was considering transitioning their products from long-chain to shorter-chain perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). They asked for our independent review of the science.
Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) are part of the broader class of halogenated materials, which contain fluorine, chlorine, bromine, or iodine. PFCs also make many of our everyday products water-, stain- or grease-resistant. In many consumer products, oil repellency is desirable. Halogenated materials and particularly PFC-based coatings are one of the few durable and cost-effective options to achieve repellency. While PFC coatings are effective, they come with environmental, health, and safety concerns.
Researching repellent technology options
Our client came to us with an admirable goal: make the chemistry used in its products safer for humans and the environment. Our client thought using shorter-chain PFCs would be the best option but wanted to be sure before investing millions in R&D and product changes. They asked us to build a landscape of repellent technology options, help educate them on how repellency is achieved, and provide an objective, independent review of the science.
We found the current research to be inconclusive. There wasn’t enough evidence to be certain that shorter-chain PFCs are safer. In fact, they may be even more dangerous than their long-chain counterparts. Short-chain PFCs have recently been found in higher concentrations than long-chain PFCs both in the environment and inside our bodies. We also learned that several large household brands were removing PFCs from their supply chains entirely and that new solutions were emerging as the market for textile repellency coatings began to respond to this need.
Because of the insights we uncovered, our client changed its innovation plan. Rather than pushing forward with the shorter-chain PFCs, they shifted focus to other solutions our team identified. These alternative solutions will allow our client to remove PFCs completely. This was an impactful moment for their team, and for us as researchers.