Waterproof, Non-Stick and Deadly: PFCs in Outdoor Gear Are Contaminating Nature

CC BY 2.0. Gore-Tex products

Greenpeace urges outdoor lovers to reject the chemicals used in popular weather-resistant fabrics.

The highly successful #Detox campaign that Greenpeace launched last year has moved beyond the fashion world into the great outdoors. During the months of May and June, the organization is sponsoring seven expeditions to famous remote regions of the world to measure the presence of per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs).

PFCs are commonly used by outdoor gear manufacturers to make products waterproof, stain-resistant, and nonstick. While wearing a raincoat, staying dry in a tent, or waxing a new snowboard, you expose yourself to PFCs while releasing them into your surroundings. They are highly convenient chemicals, but unfortunately they’re also lethal.

Greenpeace wants to raise awareness about how persistent these chemicals are, and how they have likely already contaminated even the most unlikely places. Once released, there’s no turning back.

“In China, we are running an expedition into the Haba Snow Mountains; in Europe, we are exploring the oldest national park in the Swiss Alps, collecting samples from extraordinary small lakes nested in the mountains. We are doing the same in the Sibillini National Park in the Italian Apennines, the High Tatras Mountains in central Europe and the Golden Mountains of Altai in Russia. In Chile, we are taking samples in the stunning Patagonian mountains of Torres del Paine. In Northern Europe, the expedition will cover Trerikroset – the point at which the borders of Sweden, Norway and Finland meet.”
testing for PFCs

© Greenpeace

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that PFCs can be found in the bloodstreams of nearly all Americans. This is especially scary, considering that PFC exposure has been linked to a range of health problems including kidney and testicular cancer, liver malfunction, hypothyroidism, obesity, ulcerative colitis, decreased immune response in children, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia, obesity, and low birth weigh.

Because they are so stable, PFCs remain persistently in the natural environment and in human bodies for millions of years. Even if production ceased, future generations would continue to be exposed to the PFCs that remain in our contaminated water, air, and food.

Greenpeace knows that the more people realize how damaging these chemicals are, the more pressure people shopping for outdoor gear will place on manufacturers to find safer alternatives. Already, more than 200 scientists signed the Madrid Statement on May 1, 2015, calling for “PFC elimination from all consumer goods, including textiles.”

In the meantime, avoid PFCs by staying away from fabrics with Teflon, Scotchgard, Stainmaster, Polartec, and Gore-Tex, which could include any jackets made by Patagonia, North Face, Adidas, Columbia, and Jack Wolfskin, shoes by Nike and Puma, and swimwear by Adidas, Burberry, and Disney. Even the wristband of the new Apple Sport Watch is made with PFCs (via EWG Guide to Avoiding PFCs)