Greenpeace called for a complete detoxification of water-repellent outdoor apparel after its survey found nine in 10 of them made with harmful chemical compounds could weaken human immune systems and even cause cancer.
The survey was part of a joint effort from 19 countries and regions last November to collectively test 40 popular products, named by consumers, from 11 international brands that included North Face, Mammut and Vaude.
Results showed that 36 of the 40 tested products contained different forms of perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, despite some brands having already pledged to cease or phase out the use of such toxins. Some of them were available for purchase locally.
PFCs are a diverse group of man-made chemicals that were developed in 1953. They are frequently used to produce waterproof and dirt-repellent finishes for outdoor apparel.
They were also found in Hong Kong’s five biggest drinking water reservoirs, according to an earlier study released by the green group last year.
Campaigner Andy Chu Kong called on local authorities to regulate the chemical compound and clearly update the public on its inspections of PFCs in drinking water and outdoor products.
“The Hong Kong government is relatively behind, if you look at the market size of Hong Kong’s outdoor products consumption,” he said.
No universal standard of tolerance for PFCs exists, with the Norwegian government being the sole authority to limit long-chain PFCs, at one microgram per square metre.
Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po told the Legislative Council earlier this month that the government had “no plan to prohibit or control the import and sale of articles containing PFCs for the time being”.
Patagonia’s waterproof pants Torrentshell was found to have 2.5 micrograms of long-chain PFCs per square metre, while a pair of North Face’s Hedgehog outdoor shoes contained 36.59 micrograms of short-chain PFCs per square metre plus 1,200 micrograms of volatile PFCs per square metre.
PFCs may enter the human body through the consumption of fish or seafood caught from polluted waters, or when a child chews on his or her clothing.
Chu said Greenpeace visited certain of the brands’ local outlets and found that shopkeepers were not familiar with the chemical compound.
“Based on a precautionary principle, we believe there is no need to use PFCs to produce waterproof outdoor apparel,” he said. “These companies have the resources to develop new and cleaner substitutes.”
Existing alternatives suggested by the group included Schoeller Technologies’ ecorepel and Rudolf Chemie’s Bionic Finish Eco.
The named companies could not be reached for comment, but most of them posted their policies on PFCs online.
North Face said on its website that it met all the legal compliance limits and replaced all long-chain PFCs with short-chain ones as of last spring.
Patagonia explained in its Footprints Chronicles, detailing its supply chain, that it was working to replace two forms of PFCs.
Mammut said it provisionally used “a targeted and responsible durable short-chain” in place of long-chain PFCs, adding on its website that it had not yet been able to “identify a commercially available PFC-free treatment that could ensure performance comparable to C8 chemicals”.
Vaude, meanwhile, voluntarily agreed “to become fully PFC-free” across its entire collection no later than 2020, according to a statement it issued in October last year.