How Toxic Is Your New Raincoat? Greenpeace Can Tell You

CC BY 2.0. Gore-Tex products

Greenpeace has taken some of the most popular outdoor gear to a lab in order to measure concentration of PFCs. What it found is disturbing.

Greenpeace has completed testing of popular outdoor gear for hazardous per- and poly-fluorinated chemicals (PFCs). The organization selected a wide range of products that were likely to contain PFCs according to research and criteria, in particular those with DWR (durable water repellent) treatment and/or fluoro-carbon polymer membrane. The public weighed in, with more than 30,000 votes on the Greenpeace Detox website, to select the final 40 items for testing.

These included jackets, pants, gloves, tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, and a climbing rope from companies such as Patagonia, Mammut, The North Face, Columbia, Jack Wolfskin, Norrona, Salewa, and Arc’teryx, among others.

Many of these companies claim they have stopped using the long-chain ionic PFCs that have been the object of scrutiny in recent years. Some have opted instead to use short-chain volatile PFCs as an alternative, but those chemicals have their own problems. They, too, are persistent in the environment. Volatile PFCs can evaporate from clothing into the air and degrade into other perfluorinated compounds at high concentrations.

PFCs are hazardous because they do not break down once released into the environment. They bioaccumulate in blood and breastmilk; can have a disruptive effect on fetal and infant development, the reproductive and immune systems; and are possibly carcinogenic, based on animal tests.

Greenpeace’s tests found significant concentrations of both ionic and volatile PFCs, long and short chain, in the products. Eighteen items contained high concentrations.

“This study shows that the toxic chemical PFOA is still widely present in products by brands such as Jack Wolfskin, the North Face, Patagonia, Mammut, Norrona and Salewa, especially in the production of footwear, trousers, sleeping bags and some jackets. Eleven products contained levels of PFOA higher than the regulatory limit in Norway.”

Only four items did not contain any:
- 2 jackets (one from Vaude and one from Jack Wolfskin, with only the latter being labeled as PFC-free)
- 1 backpack by Haglöfs
- 1 sample of gloves from The North Face

The good news is that it is possible to make outdoor gear without the use of PFCs, if manufacturers are willing to make the transition and consumers demand it.

The best thing would be to move away from using PFCs altogether – both long and short chain – and we know it is possible because of the few brands that tested clean. Insist on a PFC-free product next time you shop.

Greenpeace is calling on outdoor companies to “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 short-term deadlines for completely phasing out the use of all PFCs in products and production processes."