Nearly three-quarters of water- and stain-resistant products contain toxic forever chemicals, a new report has found.
Public health and environmental organization Toxic-Free Future tested 60 products from 10 major retailers. Of 47 products labeled stain-or water-resistant, 72 percent of them tested positive for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), chemicals known for their persistence in the environment that have been linked to health problems including cancer, immune suppression, liver damage, reproductive problems and thyroid disease.
“Rain jackets shouldn’t cause cancer — but for some of us, that just might be the case,” Clean Cape Fear co-founder Emily Donovan said in response to the findings, as quoted in a Toxic-Free Future press release. “These companies sold a convenience product to consumers without fully disclosing the toxic trade-off.”
The products tested came from Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Costco, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s, Macy’s, REI, Target, TJX and Walmart and included rain jackets, mattress pads, hiking boots, comforters, napkins and tablecloths. Items that tested positive included products sold by outdoor brands with green reputations like REI and Patagonia, The Guardian reported.
The report also considered the type of PFAS found in the products. There are two older varieties of PFAS called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) that are the most well-studied PFAS and have been linked to cancer, heart disease, immune problems and endocrine disorders, CNN reported. U.S. manufacturers have largely phased out these older PFAS, but testing still revealed them in 74 percent of imported products. (All of the products tested in the report were imported from Asia and sold in the U.S. in store or online.)
“I was alarmed that the older, longer PFAS chains, touted by industry as having been phased out, were found in these imported products,” Melanie Benesh, a legislative and regulatory lawyer for the Environmental Working Group who was not involved with the study, told CNN.
However, there isn’t strong evidence that the newer variety of PFAS is any better for human health.
The report found that there were no PFAS in products not labeled water- or stain-resistant.
“Consumers can just choose those to be safe,” Toxic-Free Future science director and report co-author Erika Schreder told CNN.
The researchers also found some stain-and water-resistant products that did not contain PFAS. These included rain jackets from Mammut and The North Face, according to the report.
However, the responsibility is not only on consumers to vote with their wallets. The study authors are calling on retailers like REI to ban PFAS in outdoor gear and textiles. So far, their petition to REI has gathered more than 60,000 signatures.
“Retailers, like REI, can stop contributing to this toxic trail of pollution by ensuring the products they sell are free of PFAS,” Mike Schade, director of Toxic-Free Future’s Mind the Store program, said in the press release.. “As a company committed to sustainability and one of the biggest outdoor retailers in the U.S., REI has a responsibility to lead the outdoor industry away from these toxic chemicals.”