Hazardous chemicals found in many outdoor clothing brands

Hazardous and persistent chemicals, dangerous to human health and the environment, have been found in the products of leading outdoor brands.

Brands like The North Face, Patagonia, Mammut, Columbia and Haglofs keep using PFCs to make their gear waterproof despite their claims of sustainability and love for nature, a new Greenpeace Germany report reveals. [1] The report “Leaving Traces. The hidden hazardous chemicals in outdoor gear” was presented yesterday at a press conference at ISPO Munich, the biggest outdoor trade show in Europe. [2]

Greenpeace tested 40 products purchased in 19 different countries and regions. Hazardous PFCs were not only found in clothing but also in shoes, tents, backpacks, ropes and even in sleeping bags. Only in four items were no PFCs detected. Although most of the brands tested claim publicly that they are no longer using the most hazardous long-chain PFCs, they were still found in high concentrations in 18 items. [3]

“We found high levels of PFOA, a long-chain PFC that is linked to a number of health effects, including cancer, in some products from The North Face and Mammut. This substance is already restricted in Norway. These are disappointing results for outdoor lovers who want their clothes to be as sustainable and clean as the places they explore” said Mirjam Kopp, Detox Outdoor project Leader.

The report found out that two of the tested products – Mammut and Patagonia backpacks – were made in the Philippines.

“We, Filipinos, have an active outdoor community and the findings of this report should serve as a red light to all the outdoor lovers out there. Love for nature means walking the talk; and walking the talk means ensuring one does not contribute to leaving traces of hazardous chemicals to the environment. The brands were found to be positive with PFCs and prove our theory that pollution knows no boundaries,” said Abigail Aguilar, Detox Campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines.

PFCs are chemical compounds that don’t exist in nature. Once released in the environment many of them degrade very slowly and enter the food chain, making pollution almost irreversible. They have been found in very remote areas of the planet [4], in animals like dolphins and in polar bears’ livers and even in human blood.

“Brands like The North Face and Mammut are not walking their talk of love and respect for nature when it comes to the chemicals they use in the production chain. Together with the outdoor community, we challenge them to show us what true leadership and respect for nature means: stop using hazardous chemicals and detox their gear now” added Kopp.

In recent years, many outdoor brands have started switching from long chain to short chain PFCs, claiming that these are better alternatives. But recently, more than 200 scientists from 38 countries signed the ‘Madrid statement’ [5] which recommends avoiding the use of PFCs — including short chain —for the production of consumer products, including textiles.

While major outdoor brands are still highly dependent on hazardous chemicals, UK brand Páramo Directional Clothing today announced its commitment to Detox[6]. Páramo is the first brand in the outdoor sector that has already eliminated PFC from its entire production chain, showing that high-performance PFCs-free gear is possible and setting the highest standard within the sector. The UK brand joins 34 international fashion and sports brands already committed to Detox.

“We are convinced that the outdoor community really has the leverage to be a game-changer in the industry and we are calling on the brands to accept the challenge to detox their customers are asking for” concluded Kopp.

This is the first product testing from Greenpeace that was designed in collaboration with a community of supporters and outdoor lovers. More than 30.000 votes were collected on http://detox-outdoor.org/, and Greenpeace sent the 40 most-voted products to the lab.


[1] Poly- and per-fluorinated compounds, (or PFCs) are used in many industrial processes and consumer products. The outdoor industry in particular is an important user, since it applies PFCs to make products waterproof and dirt-repellent. Once released into the environment, many PFCs are broken down very slowly; they remain in the environment for many years and are dispersed across the entire planet. Some PFCs may cause harm to reproduction, promote the growth of tumours and affect the hormone system.

[2] http://detox-outdoor.org/assets/uploads/Report_Product_Testing.pdf

[3] https://medium.com/@DetoxOutdoor/pfc-quest-results-694e5f62902d#.g7n44ezcu

[4] “Footprints in the Snow” report, http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/Campaign-reports/Toxics-reports/Footprints-in-the-Snow/

[5] http://greensciencepolicy.org/madrid-statement/

[6] http://www.paramo-clothing.com/blog/en-gb/paramo-detox-commitement/

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