Toxic Convenience: The hidden costs of forever chemicals in stain- and water-resistant products
We can’t continue to accept the tradeoff of polluting our homes, bodies, air, soil, water, and breast milk with persistent, toxic PFAS so that companies can market products as stain- and water-resistant. With the tremendous progress companies have made in the last several years bringing PFAS-free items to market, the time is now for textile manufacturers, retailers, and policymakers to lead the way to PFAS-free products made with safer alternatives.
Companies that make home furnishings and apparel should do the following:
- Policy: Immediately adopt public policies that quickly phase out use of all PFAS with quantifiable goals and timelines.
- Choose safer methods: Implement known safer methods, such as making items with washable fabrics rather than treating fabric with stain-repellent chemicals.
- Avoid regrettable substitution: Assess any substitute chemicals for hazard using tools such as GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals® or ChemFORWARD to ensure that any replacement chemicals are the safest possible, excluding at a minimum GreenScreen Benchmark 1 chemicals.
- Embrace transparency: Disclose all product ingredients.
- Update the public: Provide progress reports to the public on at least an annual basis.
Retailers should do the following:
- Policy: Adopt ambitious public safer chemicals policies that get ahead of the curve and ensure all textile products available for sale are free of PFAS.
- Goals and metrics: Set clear, ambitious public goals with timelines and quantifiable metrics to reduce and eliminate PFAS.
- Transparency: Require suppliers to provide full disclosure of product ingredients.
- Avoid regrettable substitution: Assess any substitute chemicals for hazard using a method such as GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals® or ChemFORWARD to ensure that any replacement chemicals are the safest possible, excluding at a minimum GreenScreen Benchmark 1 chemicals.
- Disclose progress: Provide progress reports to the public on at least an annual basis.
- Stay ahead of and support government regulation: As policies addressing toxic chemicals gain traction in more states and from the Biden administration, retailers must act. Retailers should support state and federal policy reform to advance ingredient transparency, eliminate PFAS, and incentivize the development of green-chemistry solutions.
Leaders at the state and federal levels should enact policies as follows:
- End the use of PFAS in all textiles.
- Adopt comprehensive chemicals policies that require ingredient disclosure, restrict the most dangerous chemicals, and identify safer alternatives using tools such as GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals® and ChemFORWARD.
- Ensure cleanup of contaminated communities, holding polluters financially responsible.
- Use governmental purchasing power to avoid products containing PFAS and spur movement toward the safest substitutes.
Our results indicate that even though PFAS aren’t listed on product labels, we can in many cases avoid buying apparel and home furnishings with PFAS by staying away from stain-resistant products. Ultimately, store shelves will be free of products with PFAS when policymakers and companies do their part, so everyone can also help by advocating for change.
Here are five actions you can take to protect your family from PFAS in apparel and home furnishings:
- Call on your favorite retailers to “mind the store.” When retailers like REI continue to sell PFAS-containing products, they contribute to the contamination of our communities and drinking water. Take action today and sign our petition to REI.
- Contact your elected officials. Write to your state and federal representatives and let them know you would like them to ban PFAS in apparel and other products in your home.
- Avoid buying apparel and home furnishings that advertise stain resistance. Our tests found that many items marketed as stain-resistant, from apparel to bedding, tablecloths, and napkins, are treated with PFAS. Instead, choose items that are washable. Buyer beware: third-party standards like OEKO-TEX®, bluesign®, and ZDHC don’t currently restrict the entire PFAS class, so you can’t rely on these standards when shopping for PFAS-free.
- If you need apparel or home furnishings that are waterproof or water-resistant, find items that are PFAS-free. We found rain jackets and mattress pads that are marketed as water-resistant or waterproof yet did not appear to contain PFAS. Contact companies and search for items listed as PFAS-free to ensure they are free of the entire class of compounds. Avoid items with labeling such as “PFOA-free” that indicates it is free of some but not all PFAS.
- Get engaged for change. Sign up for our email list at ToxicFreeFuture.org and follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for opportunities to move company and public policies towards a toxic-free future.