What are some good outdoor equipment stores
questions and answers
What are per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFC) and why are they a problem?
PFCs are environmentally hazardous substances that are long-lasting and persistent. Once released into the environment, they are only broken down very slowly; they remain there for several hundred years and are scattered all over the world. These pollutants are found in remote mountain lakes and they accumulate in the livers of polar bears in the Arctic as well as in human blood. In a recent study, Greenpeace Germany found out that these dangerous substances have left their mark even in the most remote and untouched areas of the world. Some PFCs damage the reproductive system, encourage tumor growth, and affect the endocrine system. Previous research by Greenpeace International found PFCs in sewage from Chinese textile factories and in fish intended for consumption in China. In other studies, PFCs were even found in drinking water. In studies in 2012 and 2013, Greenpeace Germany found that PFCs are regularly found in outdoor clothing and shoes, and it has been shown that they can evaporate into the air or be washed out.
Why are PFCs used in outdoor clothing?
PFCs are used in many products because of their special properties (oil repellency, impregnation and stability). Their main area of application in textiles is in breathable membranes as well as dirt-repellent and waterproof coatings and surface treatments. This is why PFCs are found in all-weather jackets and rain pants, but also in tents, shoes, swimwear, work clothes, hotel sheets, seat covers and many other items.
Membranes for breathable clothing
Membranes in outdoor clothing ensure that they are impermeable to water. Breathable membranes are often made of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). PTFE is a fluorinated polymer consisting of fluorine and carbon. These membranes are also known under registered brand names: Gore-Tex® and Teflon®.
External coatings and surface treatments for textiles
In addition to the fluorinated polymers in membranes, PFCs are also used to make objects waterproof and dirt-repellent, which gives them a quality known as the pearl effect.
My favorite brand told me that their products do not contain PFOA, PFOS or long chain PFC. Does that mean these products are PFC-free?
Unfortunately not. Many outdoor brands are replacing long-chain PFC with short-chain PFC and touting this as a solution to the problem. But the more studies that are done on short-chain PFCs, the more evidence we find that they can be a problem for the environment and our health. More than 200 scientists from 38 countries recently signed the “Madrid Statement”, which, based on the precautionary principle, demands the elimination of all PFCs (including short-chain ones) in production (including textiles).
Is there a health risk for me if I wear a jacket that contains PFC?
PFCs do not go directly through the skin and there is virtually no evidence of direct health risks from wearing clothing that contains PFCs. PFCs are released into the environment during the manufacture of textiles and during the use and disposal of PFC-containing products. These substances can reach our body when we breathe in air containing PFCs, ingest food or water, or from house dust to which we are exposed. Some PFCs accumulate in the body. They have been found in human blood and breast milk around the world. Research has shown that some PFCs can damage the reproductive system, encourage tumor growth, and affect the endocrine system.
Are we polluting the environment when we wear a jacket that contains PFC?
Most of the pollution occurs during the jacket manufacturing process when PFCs are released into the environment. Therefore, all responsible outdoor brands should remove PFC from the entire supply chain and use safer alternatives.
Some PFCs can also be released into the air from products that contain them. Studies have already shown that the air in outdoor equipment stores is significantly more polluted with volatile PFCs such as fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOH) than the air in rooms without weatherproof material.
What outdoor equipment can I still buy with a clear conscience?
What is the purpose of your outdoor clothing? Do you need them for an expedition to the Arctic or for an autumn walk? Clothing that is supposed to protect the wearer from wind and weather is generally impregnated on the outside and has a membrane lining on the inside. It is best to ask the seller or manufacturer whether the membrane contains PFC compounds. Several alternative coatings and surface treatments are available. No outdoor material is “green chemistry” because everything consists of membranes that are slow to break down. But some of these membranes are not made from fluoropolymers, which makes them better for the environment. However, none of these materials should end up in landfill or cremation, but should be produced in a closed loop with appropriate recycling and reuse. Alternatives to fluorocarbon treatments and coatings are waxes, paraffins (such as Ecorepel®), Polyurethanes (such as Purtex®), Dendrimers (such as Bionic-Finish Eco®) and silicones. Bionic finish Eco® Rudolf Chemie is already used by distributors such as Tchibo, Lidl and Aldi and even by clothing manufacturers such as H&M and Kaikkialla. Other alternatives are still in the trial phase but could be ready for the market shortly. The manufacturers of these alternatives have to prove that they are not harmful to the environment or human health. Also, clothes that are worn for a long time are more environmentally friendly. It might also make sense to buy these things secondhand.
Are PFC-free alternatives more expensive?
According to statements from the industry, these products are similarly expensive. The cost of chemicals in a finished product is only 2 to 4% of the price.
Are Alternatives Equally Effective?
Tests have shown that fluorine-free alternatives are similarly effective in terms of water-repellent or water-repellent properties. Outdoor clothing that uses these alternatives is just as windproof, breathable and can withstand downpours. Only when it comes to oil and dirt repellency are PFCs still better than fluorine-free alternatives.
Why did Greenpeace conduct expeditions in remote areas?
Various scientific studies have already shown that PFCs can be found around the world, even in remote areas. A group of Greenpeace offices wanted to find out how dispersed and out of control the PFC pollution problem is, as it is in very remote areas, far from civilization or polluting industries. We expanded the scope of the study by also analyzing short-chain PFCs, for which little data is available so far. We have selected locations that are very far from any local sources of these chemicals, especially areas near mountains and, if possible, in protected areas. We took snow and water samples and had them examined in an independent, recognized German laboratory that specializes in this type of analysis.
How do PFCs get to these remote areas?
PFCs are used in various industries and are released into the environment during the manufacturing process of e.g. textiles and during the use and disposal of PFC-containing products. PFC are distributed globally. They cover long distances and are mainly transported in the atmosphere. They even get to very remote areas, far from polluting industries.
What share does the textile / outdoor sector make of the total amount of PFCs released?
Aside from textile and outdoor products, PFCs are used in a large number of other products, e.g. in carpets, paper covers, extinguishing foam, pesticides, semiconductors or in the photography industry. According to the German Federal Environment Agency, 80,000 to 144,000 tons of fluoropolymers are artificially produced every year. There are data gaps in the detailed numbers of all different uses and substances. But as far as volatile PFC (FTOH) is concerned, information summarized by the Danish Ministry of the Environment shows that around 50% of production (5,000 tons) goes into the impregnation of textile consumer products, e.g. weatherproof clothing, carpets and upholstered furniture.
Many outdoor brands are known to publicly care about sustainability and the environment - that's why we challenge them to become true detox leaders, eliminate all PFCs and replace them with safer alternatives. In this way, the outdoor sector can pave the way to non-toxic production for other sectors that still use PFC.
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