New commitment follows nationwide campaign and state regulatory actions
Advocates urge REI to ensure substitutes are safer and call on Dick’s Sporting Goods to join REI in banning PFAS “forever chemicals”
SEATTLE, WA—Yesterday, leading outdoor retailer REI announced it will ban PFAS “forever chemicals” (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in all textile products and cookware from its suppliers, in a major update to its “Product Impact Standards” for its 1,000+ brand partners. REI’s restrictions take effect in the fall of 2024 for cookware and textile products including, but not limited to, apparel, accessories, footwear, packs, and bags. REI has granted a longer timeline for professional, expedition-level apparel to fall of 2026.
REI’s new policy commitment comes more than a year after the launch of the nationwide marketplace campaign, REI, time to “opt-out” of PFAS, led by the Mind the Store program of Toxic-Free Future in partnership with Safer States and other organizations. During the national campaign, thousands of people and organizations urged Seattle-based REI to ban PFAS in products it sells, via letters, petitions, rallies, and social media. Toxic-Free Future published an original study, Toxic Convenience, in January 2022, revealing PFAS in private-label and brand name clothing sold at REI and other retailers. Last fall, REI members and advocates in more than 20 cities rallied and delivered petitions signed by more than 130,000 people to REI stores nationwide, demanding the company ban PFAS in the products it sells. Since then, petition signatures have grown to more than 155,000. Although REI addressed PFAS through a statement released in September, the company did not set a timeline to ban these toxic “forever chemicals”—until now.
REI’s announcement also comes after numerous states have taken regulatory action on PFAS in apparel and cookware. California, Colorado, Maine, New York, Maine, and Washington have taken steps to regulate PFAS in apparel and cookware through restrictions, labeling, or disclosure. More state action is pending.
REI’s new policy comes at a time when the production and disposal of PFAS have impacted the drinking water of communities across the U.S. and world, such as at Chemours’ plant in Fayetteville, NC and Daikin’s PFAS facility in Decatur, AL. Despite state bans and significant market shifts away from PFAS, Chemours has proposed to expand its PFAS manufacturing in North Carolina. Meanwhile, 3M recently announced a global phase-out of PFAS production.
In response to REI’s announcement, the following statements were made:
“We are so pleased that REI has finally listened to its members. No one’s drinking water should be polluted for a raincoat,” said Mike Schade, director of Mind the Store, a program of Toxic-Free Future. “Our national campaign efforts helped make all the difference. REI’s commitment will have nationwide impacts by protecting more people from toxic chemicals and by driving ripple effects in the marketplace. REI must take the next step and work with its brand partners to ensure the substitutes are truly safer for people and the planet. And, other retailers, like Dick’s Sporting Goods, must quickly follow suit.”
“REI’s action sends a clear signal to all apparel companies that PFAS are just too dangerous to be used on our clothing,” said Laurie Valeriano, executive director of Toxic-Free Future. “With this decision, this sustainability-minded company is getting out ahead of regulation. REI should make sure these persistent, toxic chemicals are replaced with safer solutions by requiring full ingredient disclosure and assessment for hazards. We are proud that our hometown co-op is leading the way, and look forward to working with REI to set a new bar for safety.”
“This moment has been years in the making,” said Cindy Luppi, New England Clean Water Action Director and Safer States Steering Committee member. “Thousands of grassroots voices and REI members, as well as state legislatures across the country, have called for leadership in replacing PFAS with safer alternatives. We thank REI for showing how feasible this step is and hope it encourages many more to step up and better protect our health from ‘forever chemicals.’”
“Prayers have been answered that the forever chemicals will no longer be used by REI and its suppliers for clothing and other textiles,” said Brenda Hampton, founder of Concerned Citizens of WMEL Water Authority, a grassroots organization working to clean up PFAS drinking water contamination from Daikin and 3M around Decatur, AL.
“Living well outdoors should never come with a dose of toxic chemicals, or at the expense of someone else, “ said Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, a grassroots organization working to restore and protect the air, soil, water, and food supply from PFAS contamination near Chemours in NC. “Communities like mine deserve protection from continued PFAS exposures. Thank you, REI, for living up to your values, listening to your customers, and demanding a market shift.”
ABOUT THE NATIONAL CAMPAIGN: “REI, TIME TO OPT-OUT OF PFAS!”
Led by Toxic-Free Future’s Mind the Store program in partnership with Safer States, the national campaign urging REI and other retailers to ban PFAS in outdoor apparel and other textiles launched in September 2021.
The campaign began with a letter to REI’s CEO, which received no formal response. Following the letter, advocates launched online petitions to REI in November of 2021. In December 2021, a group of more than 100 local, state, and national organizations sent a letter to REI’s CEO Eric Artz calling on the company to lead the outdoor apparel industry in a bold transition away from the entire class of PFAS. In the early winter of 2021, advocates launched social media campaigns and held in-person actions outside REI stores across the country including Anchorage, Miami, New York, Raleigh, and Seattle while handing out leaflets to REI customers.
The campaign continued throughout 2022, leading up to and following the company’s annual member meeting. In early 2022, Toxic-Free Future released a study that found PFAS in most stain- and water-resistant products—including items purchased at REI and other retailers. In April, REI received a failing ‘F’ grade in a national scorecard ranking PFAS policy commitments across dozens of retailers published by NRDC, Fashion FWD, and U.S. PIRG Education Fund.
In March, in REI’s home state of Washington, Governor Inslee signed a bill into law (HB 1694) that tackles PFAS “forever chemicals” in a broad range of products, including apparel, on the fastest timeline in the nation, by 2025.
When REI invited questions to be submitted for its annual meeting, REI members spoke out on the co-op’s message board demanding action on PFAS—totaling more than 90% of all comments. At the meeting in May 2022, REI leadership addressed the issue, but failed to commit to phasing out PFAS.
Following the member meeting, advocates and REI members took to the streets in Minnesota, North Carolina, and Maine, delivering postcards and petitions to REI store managers signed by thousands of REI members. The in-person actions culminated with a national week of action in September, with in-person actions taking place in 22 cities in 18 states from September 19-25, 2022. Petition signatures totaling more than 130,000 were delivered at REI’s flagship stores in both New York City and Seattle in collaboration with organizations such as the JustGreen Partnership.
The campaign continued in the months that followed, offering analysis on the limitations of third-party certifications and the need for REI to act in 2023, especially in light of legislation signed by the Governors of California and New York.
Through the course of the campaign, more than 155,000 online e-mails or petitions were generated to REI by partners including Beyond Plastics, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Change.org, Clean Water Action, Consumer Reports, Defend Our Health, League of Conservation Voters, North Carolina Conservation Network, Parents Together, Safer States, Toxic-Free Future, and U.S. PIRG
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 persist and don’t break down in the environment.
Last 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. 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. Several states have adopted restrictions on PFAS in textiles with CA banning PFAS in almost all textiles by 2025, NY restricting them in apparel, CO banning them in upholstered furniture, and WA moving forward on regulatory actions on many categories of textile products. Five states (CA, CO, ME, MD, VT) have adopted restrictions on PFAS in carpets, rugs and aftermarket treatments. 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 legislation adopted last year, WA is 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.
Retailers are increasingly adopting safer chemicals policies to eliminate PFAS in key product sectors, according to the 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 2022, Columbia committed to a goal of phasing out PFAS by the end of 2024. In 2021, 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. Currently, over 30 unique retail chains with more than 150,000 stores and more than $654 billion in sales have committed to eliminating or reducing PFAS in food packaging, textiles, and/or other products.
Toxic-Free Future (TFF) is a national leader in environmental health research and advocacy. Through the power of science, education, and activism, Toxic-Free Future drives strong laws and corporate responsibility that protects the health of all people and the planet.
Safer States is an alliance of diverse environmental health organizations and coalitions from across the nation committed to building a healthier world. By harnessing place-based power, the alliance works to safeguard people and the planet from toxic chemicals and sparks innovative solutions for a more sustainable future.