Amid criticism, Patagonia works to rid outerwear of PFCs

Patagonia, The North Face and other outdoor sportswear makers are responding to a Greenpeace hazardous chemicals report this way: We’re on it. 

However, elite outdoor clothing manufacturers say change doesn’t happen overnight to find replacements of hazardous chemicals in their outerwear. And while they insist they’re working hard at finding safer materials that meet their tough standards, they argue the current ingredients in their products don’t run counter to their eco-friendly image either. 

Patagonia, The North Face and a handful of other outdoor sportswear manufacturers are the target of a recent report by Greenpeace Germany that highlighted a group of these companies for their use of perfluorinated and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) and other hazardous chemicals in some of their products.

Greenpeace’s report, “Chemistry for any weather,” summarizes the findings of two independent laboratories it commissioned to evaluate the chemical content of specific pieces of outdoor weatherproof clothing. Other manufacturers named prominently in the report include Jack Wolfskin, Kaikkialla and Marmot.

The independent laboratories tested weatherproof jackets and pants earlier this year and found PFCs in all 14 samples, according to the report. High concentrations of the well-documented hazardous compound perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) was found in all of them and in high concentrations in five of the samples from the manufacturers listed above.

This group of chemicals is used by outdoor clothing manufacturers to make their gear stain and water-resistant. However, these substances also are known as a persistent pollutant that don’t break down once introduced into the environment. In addition, the chemicals accumulate in humans and other living organisms through tainted food, air and water. That’s dangerous because widely-respected studies revealed a connection between those chemicals and problems with fertility and other immune disorders.

“There are no safe levels for PFCs; they are intrinsically hazardous and should be eliminated completely by the textile industry,” asserts Greenpeace Toxics Campaigner Kirsten Brodde, Ph.D., in Hamburg, Germany. “An outdoor industry that draws a picture of itself as being green should stay out of the use of all hazardous chemicals and not try to monitor them and slow down the process of elimination."

Graphic of jackets (not Patagonia products) via Alex Ciopata/Shutterstock

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