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Wide-open vistas are frequently used to advertise outdoor clothing, yet the toxins many weather-resistant fabrics contain may actually be detrimental to nature and our personal health, according to a new report from Greenpeace Germany. To determine the scope of the problem, the environmental nonprofit commissioned two independent laboratories to test 14 rain jackets and trousers for a spectrum of hazardous chemicals. Despite representation from a range of popular brands, including Patagonia, The North Face, Jack Wolfskin, and Fjällräven, the results were broadly—and dishearteningly—the same.
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Every piece of apparel tested positive for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a persistent hormone-disruptor used to produce Teflon and other chemicals, with the highest concentrations in products from Patagonia, The North Face, Jack Wolfskin, Kaikkialla and Marmot. Several jackets, notably those from Mammut and Vaude, also contained significant levels of fluorotelomer alcohols, which can break down into PFOA.
Germany is the largest market for outdoor clothing on the continent, with a turnover valued at more than 1 billion euros.
A child’s rain jacket from Seven Summits contained the highest level of nonylphenol ethoxylates, a textile surfactant that’s not only extremely toxic to aquatic organisms but also exhibits estrogenic properties. The highest value for phthalates, a group of endocrine-disrupting chemicals used to increase the plasticity of a material, was found in a child’s poncho from Northland.
“The outdoor clothing industry advertises its products featuring images of pristine nature. But the reality is that the harmful substances used by this industry are now to be found in the environment and in the blood of humans all over the world,” says Manfred Santen, an expert at Greenpeace Germany. The European nation is the largest market for outdoor clothing on the continent, with a turnover valued at more than 1 billion euros.
Greenpeace is calling on the outdoor-apparel industry to ban perfluorinated compounds (including PFOA), NPEs, and phthalates, which can contaminate drinking water, food, and ultimately human blood and breast milk.
Healthier weatherproof alternatives are widely available, including membranes made from polyester or polyurethane. Such clothing, according to Greenpeace, are uncompromising in their ability to withstand wind, rain, and snow. In fact, products containing PFCs are superior to fluorine-free alternatives only with regard to oil-repellency.
“The industry has gone from being a specialist supplier to a producer of trendy everyday wear,” says Santen. “Consumers looking for waterproof clothing have the right to know what their rain gears contains and be able to make a choice. There are already several manufacturers offering fluorine-free alternatives.”