PFCs are used to make outdoor gear waterproof

PFCs are used to make outdoor gear waterproof

Environmental activist group Greenpeace is focusing on outdoor brands and retailers in the latest phase of its ongoing Detox Campaign, challenging them to eliminate all PFCs from their products and supply chains.

As part of its action, the group is taking part in expeditions to seven remote regions of the world to collect water and snow samples and test them for per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which are used to make outdoor gear waterproof.

"Some PFCs are known to be hazardous. With others, we don't know enough. That's why we are calling for much more stringent regulations to protect the environment and our health," says Gabriele Salari, who is a member of the Detox Outdoor project at Greenpeace Italy.

"In light of the hazardous properties of many PFCs, it is not enough to merely regulate single substances as is currently being done at the international level. Greenpeace demands that the entire group of PFCs be put to the test."

Greenpeace will travel to collect samples from snow and alpine lakes in China, the Swiss Alps, the Italian Apennines, central Europe, Russia, Chile and Treriksroset on the borders of Sweden, Norway and Finland to see the extent of PFC contamination.

The group says PFCs can persist in the environment for millions of years and are already found deep in the ocean, on mountain tops, and in nearly all living creatures.

"With this new challenge, we want people involved who are passionate about outdoor sports," says Salari. "We want anyone who wears a waterproof jacket, even if it’s just to take their dog for a walk in the park. We want them to know that what they wear harms the environment."

The group has been pushing the fashion industry to eliminate toxic chemicals from its products and supply chains for the past four years – and is supported by around 20 brands and retailers including Adidas, Nike, H&M and Primark are working towards the zero discharge of hazardous chemicals (ZDHC) by 2020.

But it says it is no longer enough to merely regulate single substances as is currently being done at the international level.

Last month, more than 200 scientists from 38 countries signed the so-called ‘Madrid Statement,’ which calls for the elimination of PFCs from the production of all consumer products, including textiles.

They say that while highly fluorinated chemicals such as PFOA and PFOS (perfluorooctanoic acid and sulfonate) have been phased out in the US and effectively banned in Europe, they are being replaced by short-chain PFASs (poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances) with similar structures. But these alternatives are still as environmentally persistent, and because some are less effective, larger quantities may be needed to provide the same performance.

PFCs accumulate in water and food, and exposure to high concentrations has been linked to a wide range of health problems including cancer, hypothyroidism, ulcerative colitis, lower birth weight and size, and decreased immune response to vaccines in children.

Outdoor apparel brands have struggled to find safer alternatives. On top of this, the management of chemicals in multi-tiered supply chains is "a complex challenge", while the phase-out of PFCs is complicated by contamination in production and an inability to use PFC-free finishes on all types of textiles.

Greenpeace has also been calling on political decision makers in the EU and China to introduce legislation restricting the entire groups of PFCs.