Waves at Teignmouth
© Natasha Ewins / MCS

MCS calls for ban of 'forever chemicals’ lurking in bathroom cabinets

Date posted: 6 February 2020

Following an investigation into some of the most popular bathroom and cosmetic staples, MCS has identified many which contain invisible ‘forever chemicals’ PFAS, which remain in the marine environment for many years and can have a detrimental impacts on the ocean and the animals within it.

© Anna Popovic

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are fluorinated chemicals which remain in the environment without breaking down for many years; they are highly polluting and extremely difficult, if not impossible, to remove once they enter the environment.

PFAS chemicals can be found in:

MCS is concerned about PFAS presence in cosmetics and bathroom staples due to their direct pathway into water sources and eventually the ocean. PFAS also currently escape classic wastewater treatment systems because, amongst other reasons, they remain dissolved and therefore are difficult to filter out like solids.

Dr. Francesca Bevan, MCS Chemical Pollution Specialist says: “The dangers which PFAS pose to the marine environment are similar to those posed by ocean plastic, a steady stream causing an ever-growing build up in the environment. What makes the problem of PFAS more challenging is that they are an invisible threat, we can’t physically see these chemicals building up and as such, don’t know the true extent of the damage.”

Currently, only two PFAS chemicals have been banned globally due to data proving a link between exposure to these chemicals and effects on the liver, gastrointestinal tract and thyroid in humans and animals. These two PFAS chemicals have also been shown to have carcinogenic effects and to cross the placenta in some animals.

Organisations including MCS are working to demystify PFAS chemicals and to introduce better legislation in manufacturing. CHEM Trust is advocating for a ‘grouping’ approach in chemical regulation, allowing regulation of the entire group of PFAS to accelerate the phasing out of the chemicals in products. Environmental charity Fidra is conducting a study looking at the use of PFAS in UK food packaging. Fidra is calling for UK supermarkets to follow the example set by Denmark and take a lead in removing these harmful chemicals from our food shelves, setting the stage for wider legislative change. The use of PFAS chemicals in manufacturing is so prolific that improved legislation would likely have the most impact on stemming the flow of PFAS chemicals into the environment.

Full ingredient labels on cosmetics would theoretically allow consumers to make an active choice to avoid PFAS chemicals by opting for ‘fluorine free’ products, and MCS encourage consumers to do this as much as possible. However, the charity recognises ingredient lists can be very confusing and exhaustive, for other products there is often no way of knowing whether they contain PFAS. Therefore, whilst MCS encourages consumers to make educated choices (some options can be found at www.pfasfree.org.uk) wherever possible, retailers need to stop using PFAS in their products to protect the public’s health, and the health of the ocean.

Actions you can take

  1. Learn more about PFAS