Environment

These clothing brands have stopped using PFAS chemicals

Some brands have already phased out PFAS, while others are lagging behind.

Levi Strauss & Co., Victoria’s Secret, Keen Footwear, and Deckers Brands are among the companies that have already phased out PFAS. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

You’ve probably been hearing more and more about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the last few years as environmental and consumer protection groups have raised awareness of the issue.

PFAS are no joke. A certain level of exposure can increase your risk of prostate, kidney, and testicular cancer, weaken your immune system, and cause pregnancy and birth complications, among other health impairments.

The scary part is, PFAS is everywhere — in your clothes, in your food, in your cookware, and maybe even in your water, and it can get into your body easily through consumption or extended skin contact.

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In all likelihood, you probably already have low levels of PFAS in your body, and since PFAS are “forever chemicals,” they take a very long time to break down and probably will not leave your body.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it to prevent further exposure.

Environmental and consumer protection groups are increasingly mounting pressure on all types of companies to stop using PFAS, or to at least clarify their use of PFAS.

A new report by consumer protection non-profit U.S. PIRG looked at the use of PFAS by the 30 top U.S.-based clothing companies, and detailed who is using them and who isn’t.

“As a major user of PFAS, the apparel industry can play a key role in turning off the tap of PFAS pollution,” U.S. PIRG wrote in its report.

U.S. PIRG also graded the companies on the basis of their timelines for PFAS phaseout, the range of products covered by their PFAS policy, the public availability of their PFAS commitments, and their PFAS labeling and testing protocols.

The report begins by praising Levi Strauss & Co., Victoria’s Secret, Keen Footwear, and Deckers Brands, which makes UGG, Teva, and others, for eliminating the use of PFAS in their clothing altogether.

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The report also said that other companies have clear, time-bound commitments to phase out all PFAS from their apparel, including American Eagle, Ralph Lauren, Gap Inc., and PVH, the parent company for brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Speedo, and Patagonia.

Still, U.S. PIRG reported, most U.S.-based clothing companies have weak commitments when it comes to eliminating PFAS from their products.

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Of the 30 apparel brands and retailers surveyed, the report said, 18 brands and retailers received a grade of D or lower.

Some of these companies did not have a publicly available commitment to eliminate any PFAS, while others pledged to eliminate only PFOA and PFOS, which are two PFAS chemicals that have already been phased out of use in the U.S., the report said.

These brands include Macy’s, Walmart, Skechers, and Wolverine, the parent company of Hush Puppies, Keds, Merrell, Stride Rite, and others.

In particular, the report said, clothing companies that make outdoor apparel are lagging behind when it comes to eliminating PFAS from their clothing.

The report said that REI, L.L. Bean, and VF Corp., the parent company of The North Face, Timberland, Jansport, and others, received grades of D or F for incomplete commitments that excluded only some PFAS or had long timelines for phaseout. 

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Additionally, the report said, many companies use outdated, inaccurate, or misleading definitions of PFAS in their commitments and communications about PFAS, which can cause confusion among consumers as to whether a product contains PFAS or not.

For instance, the report said, companies should stop using the label “PFCs of environmental concern–free” if their products contain any PFAS, because it falsely suggests some PFAS are not of environmental concern. 

U.S. PIRG finished their report with a list of recommendations to clothing retailers, policymakers, and consumers regarding PFAS.

It said clothing companies should publicly commit to a time-bound phaseout of all added PFAS in their apparel, label any products containing PFAS as containing PFAS, and urge industry trade associations to adopt these recommendations for their memberships.

It also encouraged federal and state governments to ban all PFAS in consumer apparel and require labeling of products that contain PFAS until all uses are phased out.

Finally, U.S. PIRG suggested consumers urge lawmakers and their favorite brands to act to eliminate PFAS.

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