The well-known group of chemicals, which consists of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, has been widely used since the 1950s in everything from
nonstick cookware to water-repellent clothing to stain-resistant fabrics to flame retardants to cosmetics. But it’s not just in the products we use, it’s also in our soil, our drinking water and the air we breathe. That’s because PFAS falls into the category colloquially known as “forever chemicals,” which don’t degrade naturally in the environment and have been linked to a host of health risks for humans. As a result, we’re also finding PFAS a lot more frequently in news headlines, class action lawsuits, and government regulations aimed at eradicating it from the global supply chain.
The challenge for the companies at the center of this issue is identifying where exactly PFAS is occurring in their global supply chains before they can even start the process of removing it. That can be much more difficult than it sounds. Virtually every product sold today is made up of dozens of component parts, textiles, and chemical compounds that are sourced through global networks of primary, or tier one suppliers, secondary (tier two) and sometimes even third-, fourth- and fifth-tier subcontractors, before finished goods are sold and marketed. Getting complete transparency throughout that supply chain—across language, geographic, and countless other logistical barriers—is a relatively new exercise for most companies, and many are having a tough time with it.