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H&M Backs Campaign to Ban PFAS in Fashion Supply Chain

H&M has thrown its support behind the International Chemical Secretariat’s calls to end the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the clothing and textile supply chain.

The class of “forever chemicals,” which imbues many types of outerwear with stain- and water-resistance, has been linked to a long list of health conditions, including low infant birth rate, thyroid disruption, kidney disease, immune-system suppression and cancer. PFOA and PFOS, two of the most widely studied PFAS, have been detected in the blood of people around the world, including up to 99 percent of Americans, scientists say.

The government-funded Swedish organization, which also goes by ChemSec, is asking policymakers to regulate PFAS efficiently without swapping one PFAS chemical for another unregulated “cousin.” ChemSec also wants a formal recognition that PFAS pose a health and environmental problem and for the chemical industry to invest in the development of safer alternatives to PFAS for an array of products. Most of all, ChemSec would like a “serious commitment” by brands to phase out PFAS from consumer products.

The biggest problem with PFAS, according to Anne-Sofie Bäckar, executive director at ChemSec, is they are “perfectly legal to use” with very few exceptions, which means brands that wish to stop their use have very limited ways of communicating this in their supply chains. While “business as usual is not an option,” she said, without legal restrictions, suppliers will continue to use these “very effective chemicals” in manufacturing.

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“As there are almost unbelievable amounts of money in PFAS production, parts of industry will fight for the old ways, tooth and nail,” Bäckar said in a statement. “But as we can show today with this corporate commitment, there are companies that welcome legislation and say a definitive no to PFAS.”

H&M banned PFAS from its clothing, shoes and accessories in 2013, citing its harm to the “environment, for reproduction and for aquatic organisms.” Last year it joined POPFREE, an initiative by Rise Research Institutes of Sweden to promote the development of PFAS-free products through transdisciplinary collaboration.

The commitment follows actor Mark Ruffalo and director Todd Haynes’s address to the European Union Parliament last week about their film “Dark Waters” and its basis in the real-life legal battle against chemical giant DuPont and its contamination of Parkersburg, West Virginia with PFAS chemical C8, the main ingredient used to make Teflon.

“It has been tough for us to get things moving on a federal level, even with this film,” Ruffalo told ministers. “Right now, people are being poisoned, and they don’t even know about it.”