PFAS “forever chemicals” that can cause cancer and immune system harm found in rain jackets, hiking pants, mattress pads, comforters, napkins, and tablecloths
Group calls for Washington State legislature to step up action on PFAS
SEATTLE, WA—A new study released today by Seattle-based nonprofit Toxic-Free Future finds toxic chemicals in most products labeled stain- or water-resistant, with 72% testing positive for PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). Items that were found to contain “forever chemicals” include rain jackets, hiking pants, mattress pads, comforters, napkins, and tablecloths. The report, called Toxic Convenience: The hidden costs of forever chemicals in stain- and water-resistant products, also reveals that PFAS-free products are available in each of the three main product categories studied, proving that alternatives are in use.
The first-ever release of brand-specific information on the presence of PFAS in key home furnishings, the study analyzed a total of 60 products purchased from 10 major retailers. Out of 47 products marketed as stain- or water-resistant, the majority (72%) contained PFAS. Conversely, all products tested that were not marketed as stain- or water-resistant were found to be PFAS-free. This study builds on Toxic-Free Future’s research on PFAS, including a recent study on finding PFAS in breast milk of 50 Washington moms.
“Our testing finds continued, unnecessary use of the toxic chemicals known as PFAS in outdoor clothing and home furnishings like bedding and tablecloths,” said Erika Schreder, study author and science director for Toxic-Free Future. “When companies use PFAS to make products stain- or water-resistant, they are using chemicals that contaminate homes, drinking water, and breast milk with highly persistent chemicals that can cause cancer and harm the immune system. Treated clothes directly contribute to PFAS pollution of Puget Sound when they shed chemicals during washing—and the contaminated water makes its way through treatment plants to the Sound.”
At least one product from every retailer was found to contain PFAS. The study tested products from retailers including Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Costco, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s, Macy’s, REI, Target, TJX, and Walmart. Testing for total fluorine and PFAS was conducted at independent scientific laboratories.
The study also reveals that manufacturers have been using a mixture of PFAS, including compounds currently banned in other countries along with newer PFAS that have taken their place. In fact, 74% of items with PFAS tested positive for the older PFAS.
Products were grouped into three categories: outdoor gear, bedding, and tablecloths/napkins, with 20 items in each product category. The analysis focused on commonly-used product categories and found PFAS-containing items in each of the three groups.
“Better solutions are available, but far too many companies continue to use these dangerous chemicals threatening our drinking water, health, and families,” said Laurie Valeriano, executive director of Toxic-Free Future. “Until regulations are put into effect that ban PFAS in products, these chemicals will continue to be used in our raincoats, bedding, and floor treatments.”
Under Washington’s comprehensive Safer Products law, the state is proposing restrictions on PFAS in carpet, rugs, textile furniture, and furnishings, and the state was first to adopt bans on PFAS in food packaging and firefighting foam. The proposed restrictions would ban PFAS in two of the categories of products tested in this study, including all bedding items, tablecloths, and napkins.
HB 1694, pending in the Washington State House of Representatives, sponsored by Rep. Liz Berry (D-Seattle) would speed up action on other products such as apparel, rain coats, and firefighter turnout gear. In addition, Senator Das and Rep. Bateman have introduced bills (SB 5703/ HB 1853) to ban PFAS in cosmetics.
“When I first learned that toxic PFAS chemicals were found in the breast milk of Puget Sound mothers, I was horrified,” said Rep. Liz Berry (D-Seattle), referring to a 2021 peer-reviewed study by Toxic-Free Future. “As a mom, your highest priority is keeping your kids safe. Today’s report highlights how pervasive PFAS contamination is both in Washington and throughout the nation.”
Toxic-Free Future is also calling on local companies to lead the way to phase out PFAS. A national campaign calling on REI and other retailers to ban PFAS in outdoor apparel and other textiles garnered more than 60,000 REI signatures and e-mails sent to the REI CEO and Board calling for action on PFAS. 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 in a bold transition away from the entire class of PFAS.
“We urge the legislature and companies like REI to take swift action and reverse the PFAS contamination trends we are experiencing, especially when it comes to finding them in breast milk,” concluded Valeriano.
More information on the study Toxic Convenience: The hidden costs of forever chemicals in stain- and water-resistant products can be found at: https://toxicfreefuture.org/pfas-in-stain-water-resistant-products-study
Chemical companies sell PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) for application to textiles and other products 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 by Toxic-Free Future found PFAS in 100% of breast milk samples tested and that newer PFAS build up in people. And, Toxic-Free Future’s latest 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.
Other state governments are taking the lead from Washington and adopting legislative and regulatory actions to phase out PFAS in products to prevent contamination in favor of safer alternatives. For example, ME put in place a law to ban PFAS in products by 2030. CA, CT, ME, MN, NY, VT, and WA now have laws to phase-out PFAS in food packaging. VT and ME adopted bans on PFAS in carpets, rugs, and aftermarket treatments. California has adopted regulations making PFAS in carpet and rugs a priority product and regulations have been proposed for making PFAS treatments for use on textiles and leathers a priority product. CA, CO, CT, IL, ME, NH, NY, and WA have laws that ban the sale and/or use 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, 18 retailers selling food or food packaging have announced steps to reduce or eliminate PFAS in food packaging at their more than 77,000 stores.
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.