This winter, opt out of toxic outdoor gear

In response to resistance to removing toxic PFAS from clothing and gear, PIRG is supporting our partners at Mind the Store on their campaign calling on REI to lead the transition away from products containing PFAS in their stores.

Toxic threats

Sun shines on snowy cross country ski tracks in the mountains

 

I lived in Norway for close to three years. While there, I was working toward a master’s degree in natural resources management and exploring my new, nature-loving country. Norwegians have a saying that translates into something close to: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.” 

 

Through a harsh, cold winter, I came to embrace this outlook. I learned to love getting out into the cold, with my layers of wool, waterproof gear and cross country skis, to spend the few hours of mid-winter daylight gliding through the snow-laden trees after a fresh snowfall along the well-groomed and heavily-used ski tracks in the city woods. 

 

Fast forward through several glorious tumbles on skis, my move back to the U.S., and a global pandemic and now I’m working on banning toxic PFAS from consumer products, including all that gear I continue to use to get out and ski. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are used in outdoor gear to make these products waterproof and grease resistant and in ski waxes to reduce friction and improve glide. However, exposure to PFAS, even at low levels, has been linked to very serious health effects, including liver disease, fertility issues and cancer. To make matters worse, PFAS never break down and build up over time, increasing their negative impacts and earning them the sinister nickname: “forever chemicals.”

 

When I started my work on toxic chemicals, I was shocked to learn that my ski and outdoor gear that enables me to enjoy winter in this new way is actually contributing to the build-up of toxic chemicals in the air, water, soil and even my own body. It was upsetting, but also made me want to continue working toward a solution because I don’t want to be contributing to the problem of PFAS pollution every time I put on my ski gear.

 

Some companies have recognized the threat PFAS chemicals pose to our health and environment and are voluntarily phasing out these chemicals from their supply chains and consumer products. However, many outdoor industry companies are resisting this necessary change because they argue that alternative products don’t work as well as PFAS. 

 

But each time a new company such as The North Face, Jack Wolfskin, or Fjällräven announces their plans to phase out PFAS, this argument becomes weaker. In response to this resistance to removing toxic PFAS from clothing and gear, PIRG is supporting our partners at Mind the Store on their campaign calling on REI to lead the transition away from products containing PFAS in their stores. We will also be launching a campaign in the coming months to target specific outdoor clothing and gear brands who have not yet made commitments to phase out these toxic chemicals from their products. 

 

Together with Mind the Store and our other partners, we hope to push the clothing and gear industry to do the right thing and protect consumers and the environment that we all enjoy spending time in from PFAS chemicals in their clothing and gear. After all, these chemicals are toxic to us and to the environment and people who opt to spend time outside and enjoy nature shouldn’t be contributing to the toxic pollution in the places they love or harming their health.

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Authors

Emily Rogers

Zero Out Toxics, Advocate, PIRG

Emily advocates to remove toxic chemicals from our everyday lives and the environment. Emily is a NEPA native and enjoys knitting, hiking and cooking with friends.

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