(CBS4) – Cancer-causing chemicals are lurking in some of your favorite water-resistant and stain-resistant clothes. A study released Wednesday shows many popular apparel brands don’t have plans to phase them out.
Called Going Out of Fashion, the study examined 30 major clothing brands and developed a scorecard based on the brand’s policies on having chemicals known as PFAS – or perfluoroalkyl substances – in their products. PFAS are commonly referred to as forever chemicals, because they can build up in the environment and the body over time, and cause a host of health issues, including cancer and reproductive problems.
The study was conducted by the Colorado Public Interest Research Group, the National Resource Defense Council and Fashion FWD.
In the outdoor clothing category, the highest ranked company was Patagonia with a “B” grade. The North Face received a “D,” and Columbia, REI, and Merrell all received “F” ratings. CBS4 reached out to those companies for comment, but has not yet received a response, except from REI, which said in a written statement: “A durable water repellent (DWR) finish is sometimes necessary to achieve stain and/or water-resistance and meet the durability and performance expectations of our customers. Any time we use a chemical treatment in the creation of a product, our goal is to do so in a way that minimizes the impact to people and the planet.” See REI’s full written statement at the bottom of the article.
“Unfortunately, most of these companies don’t have policies or commitments in place to really remove these PFAS forever chemicals,” said Danny Katz, the Executive Director for CoPIRG. “They’re called forever chemicals because they’re designed to be pretty indestructible. So when they’re in our clothing, it’s possible they’ll get off of our clothing and into our waterways and into our bodies, and because they’re so indestructible, they’ll build up in our bodies. They’ll build up in our ecosystems over time, and it can cause some real harm to us, so it’s important we remove PFAS from every source we can.”
Katz said researchers found some companies also had misleading labels, claiming their products were free of one type of PFAS chemical, but not others. PFAS are a class of over 9,000 toxic chemicals.
“All of those chemicals are designed to act very similarly, so there’s no reason to think that any of them are going to be safer than others,” Katz said.
He offers some advice for consumers.
“If you have clothing that says stain resistant or water resistant, it may contain PFAS, if you have a label that says PFAS free, that means they’ve phased it out,” Katz said. “But if it doesn’t have that label, or (it has) a label with different letters on it, maybe PFOS instead of PFAS free, that’s no guarantee there aren’t other types of PFAS chemicals in that product.”
Katz said the study found some other clothing companies have phased out PFAS products, demonstrating it is possible to manufacture quality clothing without the health risk.
“It’s important that the state take action. It’s important that companies take action,” Katz said. “It’s possible to produce these things without PFAS, and it’s not worth the risk to produce these things with PFAS.”
There is currently a bi-partisan bill working its way through the legislature that aims to ban products containing PFAS from being sold in Colorado.
REI issued the following full written statement on the matter:
“At REI, we strive to sell high-quality, durable gear while minimizing impacts to the environment and people. A durable water repellent (DWR) finish is sometimes necessary to achieve stain and/or water-resistance and meet the durability and performance expectations of our customers. Any time we use a chemical treatment in the creation of a product, our goal is to do so in a way that minimizes the impact to people and the planet.
DWR finishes typically utilize PFAS-based chemistry. As part of REI’s Product Impact Standards, we have established initial expectations that address the use of certain types of PFAS in key product categories, including apparel, footwear, packs, sleeping bags, and tents. We have also established that ski waxes and gear and clothing treatments are the first categories where PFAS chemistry will be phased out completely. We will continue to elevate our expectations where we are able.
In addition, to safeguard consumer health and safety, REI has a rigorous chemicals management program for the products we sell under the REI Co-op brand. This involves chemical testing of materials that go into the products we sell for compliance with REI’s Restricted Substances List (RSL). We also partner with bluesign® to utilize certified materials with the aim of preventing chemicals of concern from entering into our products during each step of the manufacturing process.
Finally, several brands in recent years have begun offering PFAS-free waterproof apparel products. For example, the North Face recently begun selling products that utilize their FUTURELIGHT waterproof membrane, which is PFAS-free. REI currently offers a collection of these products, which you can find on REI.com here. Together with our partners and the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), we will continue working together to determine how we can apply these products only when necessary as well as determine when better options are available.
If you’d like to learn more about REI’s product sustainability efforts—including those related to chemical management—please visit our Stewardship site here. ”