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Toxic chemicals in outdoor products of leading brands, Greenpeace study finds

From The Guardian , Published on 26 January 2016

Environment group calls on outdoor clothing companies to phase out PFCs, which have been linked to reproductive and developmental problems.

Outdoor types, known for their love of the wilderness and healthy lifestyles, are contributing to the accumulation of toxic and long-lasting synthetic chemicals that are now found in everything from remote lakes to human breast milk.

Perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, have been found in 36 of 40 outdoor products tested by Greenpeace , including bags, jackets, trousers, tents and sleeping bags by a number of leading brands.

PFCs are chemicals used to make surfaces repel water and oil. They do not occur naturally, do not degrade, many last indefinitely in the environment, and are eliminated very slowly from humans and other animals.

Since they started being used in the 1950s, PFCs have been found everywhere from foetal cord blood to breast milk as well as in wilderness areas . Laboratory studies have linked the chemicals to reproductive and developmental problems in animals.

In 2015, more than 200 scientists signed the Madrid Statement calling for PFCs to be phased out. Responses from manufacturers of products that contain PFCs were mixed. The FluoroCouncil, which represents companies making PFCs, rejected the statement, saying PFCs were “critical to modern life” and phasing them out was unrealistic.

However some outdoor product manufacturers made statements saying they planned to develop alternatives to PFCs, with the aim of phasing them out.

To step up pressure on the industry, Greenpeace collected 40 products including bags, jackets, trousers, tents and sleeping bags from leading outdoor brands and sent them to an independent laboratory for analysis.

All but four of the products were found to contain PFCs. And 18 of the products contained the more harmful and persistent long-chain PFCs, which most of the tested brands have stated they no longer use.

“We found high levels of PFOA, a long-chain PFC that is linked to a number of health effects, including cancer, in some products from [brands] the North Face and Mammut. This substance is already restricted in Norway. These are disappointing results for outdoor lovers who want their clothes to be as sustainable and clean as the places they explore,” said Mirjam Kopp, Greenpeace’s Detox Outdoor project leader.

“Brands like the North Face and Mammut are not walking their talk of love and respect for nature when it comes to the chemicals they use in the production chain. Together with the outdoor community, we challenge them to show us what true leadership and respect for nature means: stop using hazardous chemicals and detox their gear now,” said Kopp.

The Greenpeace report said the four products that were PFC-free showed it could be done.

In August 2015 North Face said it had a general goal of moving towards a PFC-free supply chain. In January 2016 North Face said it would aim to do so by 2020, which would have knock-on effects for the entire outdoor industry.

“We know that once our suppliers convert to non-fluorinated DWR, they will be able to provide that option to other brands, and together, we can help advance the industry in the right direction,” North Face said.

Kopp praised North Face for recognizing the problem but said 2020 was not soon enough.

“The deadline they have set doesn’t really show the leadership that the outdoor community is asking them for,” she said.

Presenting the report at an outdoor trade show in Munich, Germany, Greenpeace also launched a global campaign calling on outdoor brands to phase out PFCs.

Several of the brands mentioned in the report were approached for comment.

For additional reading on corporate sustainability, please refer to the following links:
Why Your Business Needs a Sustainability Plan
Best Practices in Sustainability
Top Environmental Problems and their Impact on Global Business

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