It’s “Wakanda Forever,” not “forever chemicals.”
Hollywood superstar Lupita Nyong’o slipped into a Jonathan Cohen leather dress for the Mexico City premiere of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” on Wednesday. The form-fitting number is coated with a bio-based and 100 percent biodegradable finish by Evolved By Nature, a Chanel-backed biotech company that shuns perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a.k.a. PFAS. Activated Silk, the company said, is a liquified natural silk protein that can not only help eliminate the toxic chemicals used in conventional leather finishing but in skincare, too.
The actor’s high-profile appearance in “forever chemical”-free luxury fashion comes as Maine regulators granted fashion purveyors such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Everlane, Shein and The North Face owner VF Corp. an additional six months to disclose whether their products contain intentionally added PFAS.
The reporting requirement, part of the Pine Tree State’s lead-up to a broader ban on PFAS was poised to go into effect in January following a law that was passed in 2021. Products that contain intentionally added PFAS and that are not reported, the statute has decreed, are barred from sale and distribution.
But lobbying groups such as the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) argued that both testing for and identifying what constitutes a PFAS remain a complex process. They also cited the short notice of the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) guidance: Stakeholders released an updated draft of the implementing regulations only on Oct. 13, with the first stakeholder meeting taking place more than a week later on Oct. 27.
Writing to DEP commissioner Melanie Loyzim, last week, AAFA president and CEO Steve Lamar said that most brands are struggling to comply, not because they don’t want to but because test methods and Chemical Abstracts Service numbers for each of the 9,000-plus PFAS are not available. Many of the trade organization’s members, he said, routinely exceed regulatory requirements. A number are also already in the process of phasing out the use of intentionally added PFAS, which persist in the environment and have been linked to hormone disruption, organ damage and some cancers.
Still, it’s unclear whether brands will be able to provide the “level of specificity required by this new law” by Jan. 1, Lamar said, noting that testing capacity is limited and manufacturers are already experiencing delays in receiving test results. Further complicating matters, many downstream suppliers of components and materials are “unwilling” to disclose the exact chemistry of their inputs, claiming business confidentiality.
“It is also unclear whether the web portal which is supposed to collect the required information from manufacturers will be operational by January 1, 2023, which is creating significant confusion about how covered entities will be required to report information that is available and pay necessary fees to DEP,” he wrote.
Extensions, Lamar said, would allow companies the time to “fully focus” on continuing efforts to identify, test and validate PFAS alternatives, as well as to “carefully craft” compliance procedures to provide the DEP with the required information in the manner specified. “Dedicating resources to attempting to collect and package information required to meet these reporting requirements takes away from these efforts,” he added.
On Thursday, the DEP released a list of more than 1,000 companies that have been granted extensions. Among them were all of the brands the AAFA wrote on behalf of, including H&M Group and Levi Strauss, which have already eliminated PFAS from their supply chains, and Patagonia, which has committed to nixing them by 2024. Amazon has also been allowed to postpone its reporting. In all, Maine has rejected just four requests, all of them belonging to chemical companies: 3M, 3M Marine, BASF and Chemours.
PFAS, though widely used, particularly by outdoor-wear and leather makers, are no longer necessary to imbue fabrics with stain or water resistance, experts say.
“There are now a number of safer alternatives, for both [durable water repellent] and breathable membrane functionality,” Martin Mulvihill, co-founder and managing partner at Safer Made, a San Francisco-based venture capital fund that backs companies reducing human exposure to toxic chemicals, previously told Sourcing Journal.
Maine isn’t the only state cracking down on PFAS. Last month, California became the first in the nation to enact enforceable limits on the intentional use of the substances in many types of clothing and textiles. A Washington state statute will phase out PFAS in products ranging from apparel to cosmetics by 2025, while a New York measure banning the chemicals in “common” apparel is just waiting to be signed by the governor into law. Over in Massachusetts, a bill that would outlaw the use of PFAS in household staples such as carpeting and cookware is gaining traction. On an industry level, ZDHC, a multistakeholder organization dedicated to safer chemical choices in apparel, textiles and footwear, has added all PFAS to the latest version of its Manufacturing Restricted Substances List.
“The new ZDHC MRSL Version 3.0 sets a clear and unified signal from the apparel and footwear sector of the chemistries that need to be avoided across this and other manufacturing sectors, as well as where innovation is needed,” Joel Tickner, professor of public health at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and executive director of the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council, said of the new designation in September. “The restriction on all PFAS for textile, leather and footwear finishing is consistent with growing scientific and policy concerns about the impacts of the class of PFAS chemicals.”