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REI earns ‘F’ grade in new scorecard on toxic “forever chemicals” commitments by major retailers

Competitor Patagonia earns ‘B’ grade and praised for clear, time-bound commitments to phase out all PFAS from its apparel

Health advocates urge REI to take action and phase out PFAS from its products

SEATTLE, WA—Today, NRDC, Fashion FWD, and U.S. PIRG Education Fund released a scorecard ranking PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) policy commitments from 30 popular retail and apparel brands, giving REI a failing ‘F’ grade for its incomplete commitment that excluded many PFAS (also known as “forever chemicals”). Conversely, competitor Patagonia earned a ‘B’—the highest grade of all the outdoor apparel brands surveyed—and is the only outdoor brand with a commitment to phase out all PFAS in all products by 2024.

Today’s scorecard follows Toxic-Free Future’s original testing, which made national headlines in January 2022, finding PFAS in most stain- and water-resistant products—including items purchased at REI and other retailers. The announcement also follows a peer-reviewed study led by scientists at Toxic-Free Future, the University of Washington, and Indiana University that found PFAS in 100% of breast milk samples tested and that newer PFAS build up in people. Toxic-Free Future’s September 2021 investigative report revealed that a U.S. PFAS manufacturing facility is a major source of both PFAS pollution and ozone-depleting chemicals that contribute to health problems and climate change. 

Toxic-Free Future (TFF) and its Mind the Store program have been urging REI and other retailers to ban PFAS in outdoor apparel and other textiles since September 2021 in a national campaign. To date, more than 110,000 REI customers have signed petitions and sent e-mails to the REI CEO and Board calling for action on PFAS. Also, in December, a group of more than 100 local, state, and national organizations sent a letter to REI calling on the company to lead the outdoor apparel industry away from the entire class of PFAS.

Last week, 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. State policies to ban PFAS in apparel have also been introduced in California, Minnesota, New York and Rhode Island.

In response to the release of today’s scorecard, the following statements were made:

“As one of the largest retailers in the outdoor industry and a company renowned for its commitment to sustainability, REI has a responsibility to lead a bold phase-out of all PFAS in the products it sells,” said Mike Schade, director of Mind the Store, a program of Toxic-Free Future. “This new report clearly shows it’s possible since competitors, like Patagonia, are doing much more to phase out toxic PFAS. The high number of petition signatures we’ve collected urging REI to act speaks volumes—customers are demanding that they do better. With the company’s annual member meeting fast approaching, now is the time for REI to demonstrate leadership on these ‘forever chemicals.’”

“Our testing found PFAS in multiple items from REI—including in REI-branded raincoats,” said Erika Schreder, science director of Toxic-Free Future. “It’s disturbing that this important co-op, where my family have been members as long as I can remember, has failed to take action on these highly toxic chemicals while they build up in breast milk and contaminate drinking water.” 

“REI must be accountable and stop contaminating our waters, wildlife, and people around the world with PFAS,” said Pamela Miller, executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics and co-chair of the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN). “PFAS are now ubiquitous throughout the global environment, including remote regions such as the Arctic. Arctic Indigenous peoples bear a disproportionate burden and health disparities because the north is a hemispheric sink for PFAS and other persistent chemicals that contaminate traditional foods. It is time to end these terrible injustices by holding manufacturers and retailers accountable, and urgently establishing state, national, and international bans for the entire class of PFAS.”

“The introduction of state policies to ban PFAS in apparel and continued momentum to eliminate PFAS in textiles more broadly is a reflection of the growing urgency in our country to move away from these toxic chemicals,” said Sarah Doll, national director of Safer States. “In addition to Washington, I anticipate several more states will adopt protective policies on PFAS this year.”  

PFAS Background

Chemical companies sell PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) for application to paper and textiles as stain-resistant, water-repellent, and grease-proofing treatments. 

A growing body of scientific research has found links between exposures to PFAS and a wide range of health problems including a weaker immune system, cancer, increased cholesterol levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, reduced fertility, and increased risk of thyroid disease. PFAS are often referred to as “forever” chemicals because they are not known to break down in the environment and can easily move through soil to drinking water. With remarkable persistence and mobility, PFAS have become global pollutants that threaten the health of people and wildlife. 

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. And, earlier this year, TFF released a study that found PFAS in most products labeled stain- and water-resistant..

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, most recently, cosmetics and apparel in WA. CA, CT, ME, MN, NY, VT, and WA have enacted phase-outs of PFAS in food packaging. VT and ME adopted bans 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. CA, CO, CT, IL, ME, NH, NY, VT, and WA have put in place bans on the sale of firefighting foam containing PFAS.

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. 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. 

Toxic-Free Future

Toxic-Free Future (TFF) is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that advances the use of safer products, chemicals, and practices through science, organizing, advocacy, and consumer engagement to ensure a healthier tomorrow. Safer Chemicals Healthy Families is a Toxic-Free Future program dedicated to achieving strong federal policies that protect the public from toxic chemicals. Mind the Store is a Toxic-Free Future program that challenges retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives, and scores major retailers on their safer chemicals policies in an annual Retailer Report Card

Safer States

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.

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