Greenpeace says it found concentrations of “hazardous” poly-fluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in the air of a few European outdoor stores that were 20 to 60 times higher than concentrations found in the organization's office and storage space in Hamburg, and up to 1,000 times higher than in urban outdoor air.

Samples were taken in flagship stores of Mammut, The North Face, Norrøna and Haglöfs, and some unbranded outdoor stores, in Europe and in Taiwan. Greenpeace says it found PFCs in “significant concentrations” in the flagship stores of all these companies. The findings are summarized in a report that is available online, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” and they were publicized by Greenpeace at a press conference near the OutDoor show.

Earlier this year Greenpeace published another report analyzing levels of PFCs in a variety of outdoor garments, footwear and equipment. That report studied a wide range of PFCs but the latest report focused on volatile poly-fluorinated chemicals, mainly fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOH). Greenpeace says they are increasingly used as substitutes for ionic PFCs in outdoor garments and “readily evaporate into the air.”

The organization claims that, in the environment or after human intake, some volatile PFCs can be degraded to corresponding ionic PFCs. Greenpeace particularly refers to some FTOH substances potentially transforming into PFOA, which has been associated with adverse health effects. It quotes a study on professional ski waxers purportedly showing that exposure to a particular FTOH in indoor air results in the presence of PFOA in the blood of the waxers. Greenpeace thus argues that the classification of PFOA as a substance of very high concern (SVHC) under the Reach guidelines does not go far enough and that all PFCs should be regulated and eliminated.

But Peter Hollenstein, corporate responsibility manager at Mammut, said that the levels detected could not be hazardous for store staff or customers, because exposure of eight hours would still amount to less than one thousandth of the daily tolerable intake for a person with a weight of 70 kg.

Samples were taken in 13 outdoor stores in Europe and another three in Taiwan, and in a few clothing stores that do not sell outdoor products. Among the long-term samples, with a sampling time of 20 to 30 hours, the highest concentrations of PFCs were found in Mammut's German stores. The second-highest levels were found in the Haglöfs store in Oslo. The highest concentration in short-term samples, conducted over 50 minutes during opening hours, was found in a Mammut store in Berlin.

The concentrations in outdoor stores in Taiwan were in the same range as their counterparts in Europe, but the mix was not the same. While short-chain PFCs were prevalent in the European stores sampled, long-chain PFCs dominated in two out of three stores in Taiwan.