Taking a hike in the great outdoors is a great way to escape the pollution of the city and get some fresh air. Unfortunately, the gear outdoor enthusiasts rely on to keep them warm and dry in the elements may actually be harming the environments they are exploring. Greenpeace found hazardous chemicals in a recent test, just a few months after asking retailers to reveal the use of certain agents in the manufacturing of waterproof outdoor gear.
The test results showed per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in 36 samples of outdoor clothing, footwear, backpacks, tents, and sleeping bags sold under a number of different brand names. PFCs are used to treat outdoor gear to make it repel water and dirt, and the chemicals are harmful to humans and our environment. PFCs are a known toxin, and Greenpeace asked retailers last September to reveal whether the chemicals are used in the making of their outdoor gear, and then asked the public to vote on which products they should test – since retailers didn’t divulge which individual items might have been treated with PFCs. The environmental group tested the top 40 items, and based on the findings, is now urging all outdoor gear retailers to phase out PFC use by 2020.
The Greenpeace report, issued January 26, warns of the widespread environmental impact of PFCs. “Once released into the environment most PFCs break down very slowly,” it reads. “They can remain in the environment for many years after their release and are dispersed over the entire globe.” Indeed, PFCs have been found in places we think of as rather pristine, like remote glacial lakes. Scientists have even found the chemicals in the livers of polar bears and in human blood.
The test results do offer a glimmer of hope for the industry, since four of the 40 gear samples tested were found to be free of the toxic chemicals. Greenpeace reports that the PFC-free items include: jackets by Vaude and Jack Wolfskin, a backpack by Haglöfs, and a pair of gloves by The North Face. This illustrates that it is possible for manufacturers to produce performance outdoor gear without resulting in hazardous chemical contamination, giving some hope to the future of an industry that exists to help connect people with nature.