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Greenpeace Slams Outdoor Clothing Brands—Again

It’s been less than three years since Greenpeace last scolded Patagonia for using per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in its outerwear, prompting the outdoor apparel maker to promise to replace the hazardous chemicals with a safer material. But according to a report released Tuesday by the environmental group, the brand has “shown little sense of responsibility.”

Greenpeace’s new study, titled “Footprints in the Snow,” has accused Columbia, The North Face, Salewa, Mammut and Patagonia of making waterproof products featuring large amounts of PFCs, potentially harmful man-made compounds.

The charges came following eight Greenpeace expeditions to remote mountainous regions in May and June that found PFC chemicals in high-altitude lakes, like High Tatras in Slovakia, the Sibillini Mountains in the Italian Apennines and the Alps.

“An array of scientific studies suggests that the PFC problem is nowhere near to being solved,” the study said, noting, “These pollutants are found in secluded mountain lakes and snow from remote locations, they accumulate in living organisms such as the livers of polar bears in the Arctic and also in human blood. For some PFCs there is evidence that they cause harm to reproduction, promote the growth of tumors and affect the hormone system.”

Greenpeace said smaller outdoor companies such as Paramo, Pyua, Rotauf, Fjallraven and R’Adys offer entire collections of functional weatherproof clothing that’s PFC-free, while Jack Wolfskin and Vaude have a small selection. But it criticized larger companies of switching to shorter-chain PFCs (which break down faster and are less likely to bio-accumulate) which the group said it still found traces of in snow samples from six of the remote locations.

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“Both the outdoor industry and political decision makers urgently need to ensure that the well-known and controversial long chain PFC chemicals are not substituted with larger quantities of the lesser known volatile or short chain PFCs,” the report continued. “There is no need to risk greater contamination of the environment with PFC chemicals as alternatives.”

Patagonia has taken the accusations on the chin, acknowledging that its shorter-chain PFC solution “is not good enough, but it’s the best option we have found so far.”

“We have switched from a C8 fluorocarbon-based treatment to a shorter-chain C6 treatment, also fluorocarbon-based but with by-products that break down faster in the environment and with less potential toxicity over time to humans, wildlife and fish,” the brand stated in a blog post on Tuesday. “However, we don’t feel comfortable promising a path forward that hasn’t yet been identified—that simply isn’t fair given the complexity of this challenge.”