Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) have been used in the textile industry for decades. One of their main usage areas is to confer water and oil repellent properties to textile materials. You'll find PFC on most apparel textiles including ski wear, children clothes, and sportswear and on all kinds of technical textiles ranging from car seats and sofas to medical gowns and uniforms.
PFCs are man-made chemicals that take a very long time to degrade in nature (probably thousands of years). Today it is clear that some PFCs, i.e. the long chained C8 such as PFOA and PFOS, are causing harm to both animals and human health. The health profile of the short chained PFCs (e.g. the C6) is not yet fully clear, but many product companies want to be on the safe side and therefore require that PFC-free alternatives are used.
OC-aquasil™ Tex is a water repellent for textile manufacturers that require great repellency, but don't want to use the controversial PFC chemistry.
The demand from product companies on sustainable and non-toxic chemistry is very strong. Many of the major players in the apparel industry have gone public with their intention to phase out PFCs and other controversial chemistries. Textile manufacturers supplying the apparel industry need to cope with these restrictions and are therefore investing heavily into the implementation of PFC-free water repellents. The technical textile industry is lagging a bit behind in the area of PFC-free water repellents, probably since most of their products are not directly used by consumers. However, as the awareness of the PFC-issue increase, also the technical textile industry is expected to demand more sustainable additives. However, in the technical textile industry the demand for renewable additives such as biobased binders for the manufacturing of nonwoven or technical textile is strong.
The demand on PFC-free water repellents is high in countries such as Taiwan that are supplying the apparel industry with functional polyester and polyamide fabric. The demand is now spreading into China, Japan, India, Indonesia, etc.
Water repellent additives confer a new function to the textile material. The application process of these additives is today based on water, like most other processes in a textile mill. The usage of water in textile mills is an area for potential improvements and the best way to tackle it is probably by textile mills, chemical companies, machine suppliers and product brands working together.
Functionalizing textiles material with for example water repellents, hand-enhancers and flame retardants, is something that the industry has been doing for many, many years. Generally, the textile industry (and most other industries) has been focusing on optimizing function and keeping costs down. Sustainability has usually not been addressed until a health or an environmental problem has arisen. Today, this is changing as sustainability is been taken into account already at the development stage of a new product. There is still much to be done in the textile industry, but we are already today taking huge steps towards a more sustainable way of conferring water repellency and other beloved or necessary functional properties to textile materials.
Binders are used by nonwoven manufacturers to increase the strength and improve the dimensional stability of nonwoven materials for example table top products, insulations and medical textiles. Another usage area of binders is sun screen textiles that need to be made stiff and dimensional stable to cover window openings. Today most manufacturers use petroleum based binders, but since parts of the industry is looking for using more sustainable and biobased fibers (such as organic cotton, cellulose or PLA) there is a demand for exploring renewable binders as well to enable a fully bio-based material. Therefore OrganoClick has developed the bio-based binder-system, OC-biobinder™ .
Yes, it is true that the textile industry has been using bio-accumulative chemicals such as PFOA for quite some time. The problem with a bio-accumulative chemical such as PFOA is that it binds to proteins in the liver, blood and kidney tissue and that it is not easily released once bound. This means that animals eating liver, blood and kidney tissue will be exposed to even more PFOA than what is present in the surrounding water and air. The higher up in the food chain the higher the concentration of a bio-accumulative chemical is and when the concentration reaches too high levels, it starts getting toxic. Thus, humans and other top-predators are at a high risk of being negatively affected by bio-accumulative chemicals even though the occurrence of these chemicals is very low in the surrounding water and air. And, as many bio-accumulative chemicals such as PFOA are not naturally degraded, the accumulation in our bodies will continue even after we stop using these chemicals. That is why it is important to phase out these bio-accumulative and non-degradable PFCs even though you only find them in very small amount of the actual fabric.
DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of technicaltextile.net.