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Wiser Living

Finding a natural solution

The Dangers of PFCs in Outdoor Gear

When you’re on the journey of greening your life, it seems simple enough to trade in Comet for baking soda and vinegar, or to choose essential oil blends instead of strong-smelling air fresheners and perfumes. But toxins can crop up in unexpected places, not just in household cleaning or personal care products. In order to help you shop smarter, we’ve been looking into popular brands—from infant care to outdoor gear—to see how safe they are for our families and environment.

girl on mountain in cool weather
Photo by Fotolia/frantic01010.

In January 2016, Greenpeace tested 40 outdoor gear brands, including The North Face, Mammut and Columbia, for hazardous chemicals in conjunction with their Detox Fashion campaign. Surprisingly, only four items were free from per- and polyflourinated chemicals (PFCs). Not only were these chemicals found in the jackets, pants and footwear from the tested brands, it was also present in tents, sleeping bags and other necessary gear. For the full report, visit Greenpeace.

The Problem with PFCs

Although I’ve probably heard of PFCs from news sources, I didn’t really know what they were. These compounds are used to make products stain-, grease- or water-resistant. Armed with that knowledge, it’s no wonder they’re found in many outdoor gear brands that are, if nothing else, usually water-resistant.

Unfortunately, PFCs don’t break down well in nature which means they quickly contaminate water and food sources. Recent testing from Greenpeace Germany found that these chemicals can also enter the environment through the air, which may be why traces have been found in mountain lakes and remote locations throughout Europe. Once ingested, PFCs take several years to leave the human body, as well, regardless of lifestyle factors.

PFCs have been the subject of research for decades. Employee health surveys from DuPont and 3M show that exposure leads to serious health concerns for adults, such as increased risk of cancers, hormone disruption, birth defects and more. Even more concerning is that high levels of PFOA (a long-chain PFC) in children has been linked to high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity and suppressed immune function.

How to Avoid PFCs and Other Hazardous Chemicals

Since clothing manufacturers don’t often list their “ingredients” like food, cleaning and beauty products do, it can seem impossible to steer clear of dangerous toxins when choosing your next backpack or puffy jacket.

Do your research. The #DetoxCatwalk, from Greenpeace, is a great place to start learning more about the companies that are leading the way to toxic-free fashion. For information on outdoor brands only, visit Detox Outdoor.

Read labels, even though every fiber may not be listed, this can tell you where garments were made and which materials the item is primarily comprised of.

Choose organic materials. Organically-produced products, such as cotton and hemp, don’t use pesticides in their production, and some items may be made from renewable resources like bamboo. When shopping for outdoor clothing, wool is always a great option; it’s flame-resistant, very durable and warm.

Visit their website. If you’re shopping for a new tent, pair of hiking boots or climbing rope, hit up the company’s website to see if they have any information about their manufacturing process. Read their mission and values, and if you’re lucky they might even have information about their environmental goals and social responsibility available.