Greenpeace wants outdoor-apparel companies to clear the air, stat. A recent investigation by the environmental nonprofit found high concentration of hazardous per- and polyfluorinated compounds, better known as PFCs, in the indoor air of stores belonging to Mammut, The North Face, Norrona, and Haglöfs, as well as other non-branded retailers in Europe and East Asia. The concentration of PFCs in the store samples proved to be 20 to 60 times higher than air samples collected in Greenpeace’s office and storage rooms in Hamburg and up to 1,000 times that of urban outdoor air. The group’s findings extend from previous studies concerning the presence of PFCs in the water-repellant treatments of outdoor apparel and gear, including jackets, shoes, sleeping bags, backpacks, and tents.
IN AND OUT
But first, a brief science lesson. There are several kinds of PFCs, and they can come in ionic or volatile forms. Many PFCs, particularly ionic PFCs such as the long-chained perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which are more toxic and environmentally persistent than their shorter-chained brethren, have been reported in a wide range of ecosystems, including some of the world’s most remote regions, in human blood, and in breast milk.
“Studies show that certain PFCs such as PFOS and PFOA can cause adverse impacts both during development and during adulthood, in part due to their hormone disrupting properties, with impacts on the reproductive system and the immune system, as well as being potentially carcinogenic in animal tests,” Greenpeace said in its report.
Volatile PFCs such as fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOH) are becoming increasingly popular as substitutes for ionic PFCs, especially in outdoor clothes. “However, volatile FTOHs can be transformed into ionic PFCs in the body or in the atmosphere and can also be hazardous in their own right,” Greenpeace said, noting that the compound “readily evaporates in the air.”
It’s a complicated alphabet soup, but the crux of Greenpeace’s report is that the indoor air of stores selling outdoor gear is significantly higher in certain PFCs that that of offices or clothing stores that don’t traffic in outdoor products.
Of the long-term samples (20 to 30 hours), the highest PFCs concentrations hailed from the German stores of Mammut, followed by the Haglöfs store in Oslo. Among the short-term samples (50 minutes), the highest concentrations of PFCs originated from a Mammut store in Berlin.
“In general, the pattern of PFCs in the indoor air of the European stores is different from the pattern in stores in Taiwan,” Greenpeace said. “In Europe, short-chain PFCs such as 6:2 FTOH dominate, although long chain PFCs such as 8:2 FTOH are also present in most of the stores. In Taiwan the long chain PFCs dominate in two out of the three stores.”
Greenpeace said that the elevated levels of PFCs inside the stores are likely a direct result of evaporation from their outdoor wares.
“The findings from these investigations on indoor air quality in stores selling outdoor clothing and gear justify the intensification of scientific research on the impact on indoor air quality due to volatilization of certain PFCs from textiles,” the group said. “More importantly, they highlight the importance of immediate action to eliminate the use of PFCs.”
“Greenpeace urges all outdoor brands to implement a Detox commitment and to set short-term deadlines for completely phasing out the use of all PFCs in all products and production processes,” the organization said. “As global players, outdoor companies such as The North Face, Mammut, Haglöfs, Norrona and other companies have an opportunity and the responsibility to improve manufacturing practices in their supply chains.”