Soccer shoes from Adidas, Nike and Puma were tested for hazardous chemicals at the Bremer Umweltinstitut, an independent research laboratory in Germany. (Photo credit: Greenpeace / Holger Weber)

Soccer shoes from Adidas, Nike and Puma were tested for hazardous chemicals at the Bremer Umweltinstitut, an independent research laboratory in Germany. (Photo credit: Greenpeace / Holger Weber)

Sporting goods giants Adidas and Nike have both hit back at claims that some of the football merchandise produced ahead of this year's World Cup in Brazil contains high levels of hazardous chemicals.

A new investigation by Greenpeace also says products from Puma were among 33 items including boots, goalkeeper gloves and the official 'Brazuca' ball, that contained a range of substances uncovered by independent laboratory tests.

Chemicals like perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), nonylphenolethoxylates (NPEs), phthalates and dimethylformamide (DMF) were found in products from all three companies and purchased across three continents, Greenpeace says.

These hazardous substances can leach from the products into the environment or get into the food chain. Some of them potentially cause cancer, disrupt the hormonal system or can be toxic to reproduction.

But Adidas told just-style that none of the tested products pose any health risk to consumers - and that all of the published results and concentrations fully meet all legal requirements.

Likewise, Nike says its products tested within the limits set by government agencies and below the levels set in Nike's own Restricted Substances List (RSL). 

Greenpeace said the results showed Adidas's iconic 'Predator' football boots contained levels of toxic PFC at 14 times the company's own restriction limits - and that ionic PFCs such as the dangerous PFOA were found in 17 out of 21 football boots and half of the goalkeeper's gloves tested.

After the Adidas Predator boot, Nike's Tiempo boot contained the highest levels of PFOA at 5.93 micrograms per m2. A pair of Adidas Predator gloves also contained levels of the substance in excess of the brand's own limits.

Phthalates and dimethylformamide (DMF) were detected in all 21 boots. DMF - used as a solvent in boots manufacturing - is classed as toxic to reproduction and can be harmful when in contact with skin.

NPEs, a substance that when released into the environment, degrades to nonylphenol, which is known to be toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms, were also found in over two-thirds of boots and half of the gloves, indicating the widespread use of this chemical, Greenpeace added.

The 'Brazuca' official World Cup ball was also found to contain NPEs - although Adidas says the amount present is 50 times lower than European guidelines.

The company says that not only do its products fulfill all legal criteria, but that it is calling on Greenpeace to share details of the testing methodology "as we would like to verify the implied results through independent institutes."

It adds: "None of the implied test results suggest that any deliberate use of these components in our materials." 

Adidas adds: "We clearly reject Greenpeace's attempt in making our consumers believe that our products are unsafe."

Adidas, Nike and Puma have all joined Greenpeace's Detox campaign, which commits them to eliminate all hazardous chemicals from their products and supply chains by 2020. 

Nike says it has made "meaningful progress" towards this goal.

And Adidas emphasises that it is working closely with its material suppliers and the chemical industry "to eliminate and to reduce the discharge of hazardous chemicals in our sphere of influence as far as possible. The company adds that it is "committed to promote environmentally sound and technically feasible solutions in the industry."

But Manfred Santen, Detox campaigner at Greenpeace Germany, says that despite the Detox commitments, the company need "to come clean by publicly disclosing the release of all hazardous chemicals and publishing a precise PFC phase-out plan."