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PHILADELPHIA — PennPIRG Education Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. (NRDC) and Fashion FWD released a scorecard on Wednesday ranking popular retail and apparel brands on policy commitments to eliminate a dangerous class of toxic “forever chemicals,” known as PFAS, from their products. Levi Strauss & Co. earned the highest marks while Walmart, Costco, Tapestry (parent company for Coach) and GIII Apparel Group (parent company for DKNY and Andrew Marc) received low marks for failing to adopt policies that ban PFAS chemicals or provide up-to-date, publicly available information on any ongoing efforts to phase out these toxic chemicals from their products. In Pennsylvania, PFAS is known for the contamination of drinking water at sites like the Willow Grove Air Force Base in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, where intensive use of PFAS-laden firefighting foam has poisoned the groundwater. While the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is considering new rules to limit PFAS in the water, no such protections currently exist for clothing.
“PFAS contamination can occur throughout the entire lifecycle of clothing manufacturing. It pollutes our waters, can be absorbed through our skin when we wear PFAS treated apparel, winds up in landfills, or incinerated and passed into the air,” saidEmma Horst-Martz, advocate for PennPIRG Education Fund. “To effectively address PFAS contamination, clothing brands must stop using dangerous forever chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives.”
Despite largely catering to a customer base that is concerned about environmental and public health issues, popular outdoor brands, for the most part, received poor grades. REI COOP, Columbia Sportswear (parent company for Columbia and Prana), Wolverine Worldwide (parent company of Wolverine and Merrell) and Academy Sports and Outdoors (parent company for Academy Sports & Outdoors and Magellan Outdoors) received “Fs.” Patagonia Inc. earned a “B,” the highest score in the sector, as the only outdoor brand with a commitment to phase out all PFAS from all its products by 2024.
“We hope this scorecard encourages consumers to use their shopping power for good. Commitments from major apparel brands and retailers, alongside comprehensive policy changes, can significantly help combat PFAS pollution,” said Sujatha Bergen, director of NRDC’s Health Campaigns. “It is especially unacceptable and ironic for the outdoor apparel space to have scored as poorly as they did. We need to hold multibillion dollar outdoor brands like Columbia accountable for exacerbating the PFAS crisis.”
PFAS are a class of over 9,000 toxic chemicals that are used to provide water- and grease-resistant properties to a wide variety of consumer products, including outdoor gear and clothing. Across the United States, PFAS pose a threat to air, water and consumer safety because they are highly mobile and do not break down naturally, resulting in long-term environmental contamination. Exposure to these chemicals, even in small amounts over time, has been linked to serious health effects including kidney and liver disease, developmental issues and cancer.
“Many companies fail to label PFAS use in their products as well as use outdated definitions and misleading terminology in their commitments around PFAS that are inconsistent with the majority of the international and scientific communities,” said Alexandra Quinn, founder and CEO of Fashion FWD. “These outdated definitions and lack of labeling can result in consumer confusion around whether the products they purchase contain PFAS and prevent them from making the best choice for themselves, their families, and the environment.”
PennPIRG Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being.
NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.
Fashion FWD is a U.S. nonprofit on a mission to eliminate the negative effects on humans and the environment from chemicals used in textile manufacturing by driving better consumer purchases and improved brand practices. We do this through driving consumer education and action. Visit us at www.fashionfwd.org and follow us on instagram @fashion_FWD to get involved and learn more.
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