Report highlights forever chemicals in clothes; outdoor industry among worst offenders

A new watchdog report is revealing so-called forever chemicals, or PFAS, may be living on some of the clothes we wear.

The report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund and their coalition partners, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Fashion FWD, said that out of 30 companies surveyed, “18 brands and retailers received a grade of D or lower. Some of these companies did not have a publicly available commitment to eliminate any PFAS, while others had pledged to eliminate only PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate)—two PFAS chemicals already phased out of use in the United States.”

The findings said PFAS is often used in water resistant or stain resistant products.

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“The outdoor industry is one of the largest offenders of not having solid PFAS phase out commitments,” said Emily Rogers, a zero out toxics advocate for U.S. PIRG.

Retailers like REI and Columbia Sportswear were given an F grade.

According to the report: “REI has restricted the use of some PFAS but excludes more than two from its policy. And while Columbia Sportswear restricts the use of several PFAS chemicals, company policy does not ban all PFAS in its materials, also hurting its score.”

L.L. Bean received a D grade “with a commitment to phase out all PFAS, including PTFE, by 2026,” according to the report.

In a statement in response to the report, a spokesperson for L.L. Bean said: “A clean and healthy environment is as essential to L.L.Bean’s purpose as the quality of our products and we are proud that our home state of Maine is a leader on this issue, recently banning the use of PFAS by 2030 – the first state to do so. As a company, L.L.Bean has been proactive in eliminating PFAS from our products. In fact, prior to Maine’s law being enacted, we began working with industry partners to develop and utilize alternatives to PFAS treatments that better preserve the health of the environment and still meet L.L.Bean’s quality standards. This work enabled our ongoing transition to a “C0(zero)” chemistry that eliminates all PFAS from our products and we have made great progress towards our goal of achieving a full transition. We have been engaged with the NRDC prior to and throughout the ratings process and anticipate our rating will improve as our work to eliminate PFAS from our products is completed.”

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We spoke with the group Toxic-Free Future about the health impact of forever chemicals.

“Loss of immune function,” said Erika Schreder, Science Director for Toxic-Free Future. “So, people with higher PFAS exposure actually have poorer response to vaccines. PFAS has also been linked to cancer, high cholesterol and damage to the liver and kidney.”

U.S. PIRG is urging clothing manufacturers to adopt policies to fully phase out the use of forever chemicals and had this advice for consumers.

“Consumers can do their research before going out to buy a new rain jacket or ski gear or what have you,” said Rogers. “They can look at the company’s website. They can go through our scorecard.”

The report also highlighted the companies that have done a good job with phasing out PFAS in their products including Levi Strauss & Co.

“Levi Strauss & Co was one of the earliest adopters of a PFAS elimination policy and currently leads the apparel industry in removing all PFAS from its supply chain,” the report said.

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