Greenpeace study reveals hazardous chemicals used by leading outdoor brands

By Staff | News
Posted Jan 31, 2016

One of the contradictions of ethical fashion is that ‘eco’ is not always environmentally-friendly. There’s compromises along the way. Earlier this week, a report from Greenpeace brought to light the continued use of “chemicals that are hazardous to the environment and to human health” in many well-known brands favored by outdoor enthusiasts and city-dwellers alike.

Greenpeace’s testing, on a small selection of products (jackets, trousers, backpacks, sleeping bags and footwear), found widespread use of environmentally-hazardous polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) – used to repel water and dirt, in all but four of 40 products. Of greater concern, a form of PFC, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), was found in 18 samples by brands such as Jack Wolfskin, the North Face, Patagonia, Mammut, Norrona and Salewa. PFOA is a cancer-causing substance that persists in the environment, with traces being found in snow on mountain tops and in polar bears’ livers.

In typical Greenpeace fashion, the latest Leaving Traces report, is a follow-up report to last summer’s Footprints in the Snow report. The latter shared data from 8 trekking teams, sent to collect snow and water samples from some of the most remote regions in the world proving the existence of the chemicals in the far reaches of the planet. Greenpeace Germany’s expert on chemicals Manfred Santen, sent to collect samples in snow and water samples in Switzerland’s Macun Lakes remarked,

It is a paradox that the outdoor industry claims to love nature, yet leaves traces of persistent chemicals in pristine natural areas. We want to show how widespread these hazardous chemicals are – even in areas far away from civilization and dirty industries.

Leaving Traces is the follow-up report and joins the series for Greenpeace’s “Detox My Fashion” campaign that, since 2011, has been rallying consumer support to put pressure on brands to remove hazardous chemicals from the entire manufacturing supply chain of the textiles industry and especially from final products. Greenpeace stresses that outdoor companies should commit to phasing out PFCs immediately,

Recognising the fact that once they are out there we cannot get them back out­ door companies must make a genuine and credible commitment to stop using all hazardous chemicals – with ambitious schedules and concrete measures that match the urgency of the situation. In particular, outdoor clothing brands must set short­term deadlines for completely phasing out the use of all PFCs in pro­ducts and production processes.

The problem is two-fold: the study shows that PFOA is widely present at levels higher than the regulatory  limit set by Norway (the first country to set a limit). And common fashion trends have more and more people, including city dwellers, taking advantage of ‘high performance finishes’ to stay as warm and dry walking the dog as summiting the peak of Kilimanjaro.

Key takeaways – there is ‘no safe level’ of persistent chemicals. PFC’s need to be phased out a.s.a.p. and consumers need to support brands who commit to producing PFC-free. Brands, such as Sweden’s Fjällräven and the UK’s Páramo are already PFC-free.

Side note – According to Innovation Forum, Swiss brand Mammut “is gradually increasing the volume of completely PFC-free material in its clothing but points out that PFC-free clothing produces its own sustainability problem because it is less durable and likely to be discarded more quickly, generating more waste.”

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