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California governor signs bill phasing out PFAS “forever chemicals” in clothing and other textiles

New ban follows Washington state law and Toxic-Free Future study finding toxic PFAS in most products labeled stain- and water-resistant including apparel, bedding, tablecloths, and napkins

Seattle’s Toxic-Free Future praises ban and urges Washington state and national outdoor retailer REI to act on safer alternatives

SEATTLE, WA—Yesterday, California Governor Newsom signed into law a bill phasing out the use of PFAS  (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), known as “forever chemicals,” in clothing and many other textiles by 2025. The new ban follows Washington’s adoption of a law earlier this year targeting PFAS in all products as well as Toxic-Free Future’s original study, Toxic Convenience, published in January 2022 which found toxic PFAS in most products labeled stain- and water-resistant and identified safer alternatives.

California’s ban comes at a time when Washington state is poised to take action on PFAS in textiles. The state’s new law establishes a 2025 deadline for adopting regulatory actions on PFAS in products such as apparel and gear, nonstick cookware, cleaners, coatings and floor finishes, firefighter turnout gear, and others. Key to Washington’s law is a requirement for the state agency to identify safer alternatives. Similar legislation to ban PFAS in apparel is also awaiting the signature of New York Governor Hochul.

For more than a year, a growing number of organizations and people have urged Seattle-based REI to ban PFAS in products it sells. Last week, REI members and advocates in more than a dozen cities rallied and delivered petitions signed by more than 130,000 people to REI stores nationwide. Although REI released a statement about the California law earlier this month, the company has failed to set a timeline to ban PFAS. Meanwhile, competitor Patagonia has already committed to phasing out these dangerous chemicals by 2024. 

In response to this news, Toxic-Free Future released the following statements:

“Now that we know PFAS can harm our health at very low levels of exposure, we can’t continue to use these toxic chemicals to treat our clothing. Companies have shown they aren’t needed, and getting them out of clothing and textiles will help protect every family,” said Erika Schreder, science director for Toxic-Free Future.

A 2021 peer-reviewed study led by scientists at Toxic-Free Future (TFF), the University of Washington, and Indiana University found PFAS in 100% of breast milk samples tested and that detections for certain PFAS, including ones used in textiles, are doubling every four years.

“Washington state has a huge opportunity to reverse the trend of PFAS contamination by restricting them in textiles and many more products,” said Laurie Valeriano, executive director of Toxic-Free Future. “We urge the state to move swiftly to identify safer alternatives to PFAS and protect our drinking water, food, and health.”

“I’m thrilled to see California setting this strong precedent, and hope that REI will now ban PFAS in the products it sells and ensure substitutes are safe in all of its stores nationwide,” said Mike Schade, director of Toxic-Free Future’s Mind the Store program. “As a company committed to sustainability, REI should be taking a leadership role in banning these toxic global pollutants and not simply waiting for state laws to force them to comply. It’s critical for brands and retailers to verify the safety of alternatives, to avoid replacing one toxic chemical with another that’s just as toxic.”

REI’s current policy does not address all PFAS or the potential hazards of substitutes. GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals and ChemForward are tools widely used by major corporations and government agencies to avoid the most hazardous chemicals and use the safest ones. 

BACKGROUND ON PFAS “FOREVER CHEMICALS”

Chemical companies sell PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) for application to products such as paper and textiles as stain-resistant, water-repellent, and grease-proofing treatments. PFAS have been linked to serious health problems such as cancer, immune system suppression, increased cholesterol levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, reduced fertility, and increased risk of thyroid disease. PFAS are known as “forever” chemicals because they don’t break down in the environment.

Earlier this year, Toxic-Free Future released a study that found PFAS in most products labeled stain- and water-resistant, with 72% testing positive for PFAS—including products from REI, Amazon, and others. REI members and advocates in more than a dozen cities recently rallied and delivered petitions signed by more than 130,000 people to REI stores nationwide demanding the company ban PFAS in its products. A 2021 peer-reviewed study led by scientists at Toxic-Free Future (TFF), the University of Washington, and Indiana University found PFAS in 100% of breast milk samples tested and that newer PFAS build up in people. Toxic-Free Future’s investigative report revealed that a PFAS manufacturing facility is a major source of both PFAS pollution and ozone-depleting chemicals that contribute to health problems and climate change. 

State governments are taking legislative and regulatory actions to phase out PFAS in products to prevent contamination in favor of safer alternatives. For example, laws in ME and WA have given state agencies authority to ban PFAS in a wide range of products. Maine’s law requires product manufacturers to disclose the presence of PFAS. Eleven states (CA, CO, CT, HI, MD, ME, MN, NY, RI, VT, and WA) have enacted state bans on PFAS in food packaging. CO also adopted restrictions on oil and gas products and personal care products. Eleven states including CA, CO, CT, HI, IL, ME, MD, NH, NY, VT, and WA have put in place bans on the sale of firefighting foam containing PFAS. With new legislation adopted this year, WA will be evaluating safer alternatives for PFAS in other products such as apparel, cleaners, coatings and floor finishes, firefighter turnout gear and others with a timeline of adopting restrictions by 2025. On textiles specifically, five states including CA, CO, ME, MD, and VT have adopted restrictions on PFAS in carpets, rugs, and aftermarket treatments and regulatory action is pending on these products and other home textiles (e.g. upholstery, bedding) in CA and WA. In addition, CO adopted restrictions on indoor and outdoor furniture. 

Retailers are increasingly adopting safer chemicals policies to eliminate PFAS in key product sectors, according to the annual Retailer Report Card. Many outdoor and textiles brands have announced policies to reduce and eliminate PFAS. Patagonia has pledged to eliminate all PFAS across its entire product line by 2024. In July, Columbia sent a letter to environmental organizations committing to a goal of phasing out PFAS by the end of 2024. Last year, Polartec announced it was eliminating PFAS in its DWR (durable water repellent) treatments across its line of performance fabrics. Lowe’s and The Home Depot are no longer selling indoor residential carpets or rugs with PFAS, and Lowe’s also committed to stop selling fabric protection sprays with PFAS. In addition, 22 retailers selling food or food packaging have announced steps to reduce or eliminate PFAS in food packaging at their more than 140,000 stores.

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