The Greenpeace organization in Germany published last Dec. 12 a highly publicized “Detox Report” on the findings of a new investigation into the presence of perfluorinated and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) and other hazardous chemicals, such as nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) and phthalates, in outdoor clothing. The report indicated that some of these substances can be harmful when they are released into the air, and it triggered many comments from the industry.
For the first part of its “Chemistry for any weather” report, which was published in November last year and reported on by The Outdoor Compass at the time, Greenpeace had only tested outdoor clothing for residues of harmful substances, stirring a lot of controversy, but the second part of the report, published earlier this month, went further. This time, the organization tested the effect of volatile PFCs such as FTOH or FTA (fluorotelomer alcohols and acrylates) used in the production of textiles as they evaporate from the clothing into the air.
These chemicals are generally used as precursors in the manufacturing process. However, they can be transformed into ionic PFCs, such as PFOS and PFOA, which then leak back into groundwater and drinking water. According to Greenpeace, there are indications that ionic PFCs can be harmful to the human body, and that further research on this issue is needed.
Greenpeace commissioned a laboratory to measure PFCs released into the air, using a test chamber, from a selection of nine outdoor jackets. The samples analyzed in this test came from Adidas, Columbia, Jack Wolfskin, Mammut, Patagonia, Salewa, Schöffel, The North Face and Vaude. The results showed that all nine tested products were releasing FTOH to the surrounding air at room temperature.
In addition, Greenpeace tested 15 jackets and two pairs of gloves for residues of harmful substances. The samples analyzed came from twelve brands: Adidas, Columbia, Jack Wolfskin, Kaikkialla, Mammut, Northland, Patagonia, Salewa, Schöffel, Seven Summits, The North Face and Vaude.
All the samples contained PFCs. Of the 17 products tested, 15 contained PFOA, with one-third of them showing concentrations above 1 ?g/m2. Norway will be prohibiting the sale of textiles containing PFOA above 1 ?g/m2 from June 2014.
Of the 17 products tested, 16 were markedly contaminated with FTOH at much higher levels than the ionic PFCs. In comparison to the analysis conducted by Greenpeace in 2012, a greater percentage of products, 94 percent, were found to contain FTOH and average concentrations were slightly higher.
More short-chain PFC compounds were detected than in the 2012 study. Greenpeace does not consider short-chain PFCs as an appropriate substitute. Test chamber analyses in the latter report showed that these shorter-chain compounds are more likely to evaporate from clothing.
Mixtures of non-ionic surfactants, known as nonylphenol ethoxyalates (NPEs), were found in 13 of the 17 samples tested. In the previous study, NPEs were present in five out of 14 samples, although the levels found in the latest study were slightly lower. Phthalates were detected in all samples.
Greenpeace urged the outdoor clothing industry to take quick action to stop using hazardous chemicals, in particular the entire group of PFC compounds. The organization wants the outdoor clothing brands to set short-term deadlines for their elimination. For Greenpeace, phasing out PFCs by 2020 is not an ambitious target.
FGO, the outdoor section of the German sporting goods industry federation, BSI, is already a member of an international association, “Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals,” that has decided to phase out PFCs by 2020. Commenting on the new Greenpeace report on the day of its publication,the FGO claimed that the predominant part of the evaporation process for FTOH takes place before the jackets are sold, thus presenting a greater problem for the environment at large than for the health of specific people. Additionally, the FGO pointed out that there are no toxicological findings yet on the implications of FTOH for the human body.
Noting that it takes about two years for the development and production of outdoor garments, the FGO stressed that the process of eliminating the use of PFCs, which are currently used to make outdoor clothing more durable and water-, dirt- and oil-repellen, will unfortunately be a longterm project.
Gore-Tex commented on the Greenpeace report by stating that it is committed to eliminating PFOA by the end of 2013 from all of its raw materials. Furthermore, Gore-Tex pointed out that the demand by Greenpeace to phase out all PFCs may lead to a shorter product lifecycle for the garments. The brand refers to environmental performance evaluations showing that the most effective way to reduce the impact of outdoor apparel on the environment is to lengthen instead the lifecycle.
Sympatex welcomed the efforts made by Greenpeace to ban PFC as soon as possible from the products of the outdoor clothing industry, pointing to the fact that its laminate, which was used in a Kaikkialla jacket, had received by far the best test results in the Detox report. The second-best jacket had 25 times more PFC, Sympatex added, and the worst one had more than 830 times higher PFC contamination. Furthermore, the Kaikkialla jacket had no FTOH or FTA.
Salewa said that it plans to send the jacket tested by Greenpeace, which was developed in 2011, to an independent and accredited testing institute. The results should help to determine the cause and to help solve the problem. Salewa aims to change from C8 to C6 chemistry when producing durable water-repellent (DWR) outdoor garments. The brand acknowledges that this cannot be the final solution and is therefore testing PFC-free DWR garments. For its summer 2015 collection, Salewa expects that 20 percent of the textiles used in their production will be PFC-free. Its aim is to raise the amount to 50-60 percent for its summer 2016 collection.
Vaude confirmed its goal to phase out PFC completely by 2020 from its garments. From 2014, Vaude will be producing all of its garments without using PFOA. Vaude stated that the jackets tested by Greenpeace present no danger for the human body and can be worn without any risk. It emphasised that the concentration of PFC was below 1 ?g/m2 in both of the tested jackets.
Jack Wolfskin also confirmed its aim to phase out the use of PFC by 2020. PFOA has been banned completely from the production of its summer 2014 collection. At the next Ispo Munich trade show, the brand will present a collection of outdoor apparel that will be to almost 50 percent PFC-free.
Summing up the attitude of the outdoor industry, Mark Held, secretary general of the European Outdoor Group, said that his organization has been “quietly” coordinating work on how to managed a transition from the current reliance on PFCs to a PFC-free situation, but there is still a physical limitation in terms of viable alternative DWR solutions.
In view of this, the EOG is refraining from making a collective statement committing the industry to a phased withdrawal of PFCs until the members feel fully equipped to achieve this goal, giving it a clear mandate to do so. In the meantime, the EOG will continue to provide relevant information on the issues concerned, including the provision of technical articles. It will also continue to urge the chemical companies to speed up their efforts toward finding viable alternative DWR treatments.