New commitment follows nationwide campaign and state regulatory actions
On February 21st, leading outdoor retailer REI announced it will ban PFAS “forever chemicals” (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) in all textile products and cookware from its suppliers, in a major update to its “Product Impact Standards” for its 1,000+ brand partners. REI’s restrictions take effect in the fall of 2024 for cookware and textile products including, but not limited to, apparel, accessories, footwear, packs, and bags. REI has granted a longer timeline for professional, expedition-level apparel to fall of 2026.
REI’s new policy commitment comes more than a year after the launch of the nationwide marketplace campaign, REI, time to “opt-out” of PFAS, led by the Mind the Store program of Toxic-Free Future in partnership with Safer States, VPIRG, and other organizations. During the national campaign, thousands of people and organizations urged Seattle-based REI to ban PFAS in products it sells, via letters, petitions, rallies, and social media.
Last fall, REI members and advocates in more than 20 cities rallied and delivered petitions signed by more than 130,000 people to REI stores nationwide, demanding the company ban PFAS in the products it sells. In Vermont, VPIRG Environmental Health Fellow Molly Feldman (pictured) and a group of activists staged an event at the local REI store in Willison, Vermont. VPIRG delivered a letter to the store manager, urging REI executives to live up to their stated commitment to sustainability and remove PFAS from their products.
REI’s announcement yesterday comes after numerous states have taken regulatory action on PFAS in apparel and cookware. California, Colorado, New York, Maine, and Washington have taken steps to regulate PFAS in apparel and cookware through restrictions, labeling, or disclosure. More state action is pending.
Vermont Senator Virginia Lyons, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, is sponsoring legislation this year (S.25) aimed at eliminating PFAS and other toxins from textiles including apparel, personal care products, menstrual products, and synthetic turf fields.
REI’s new policy comes at a time when the production and disposal of PFAS have impacted the drinking water of communities across the U.S. and world, such as at Chemours’ plant in Fayetteville, NC and Daikin’s PFAS facility in Decatur, AL. Despite state bans and significant market shifts away from PFAS, Chemours has proposed to expand its PFAS manufacturing in North Carolina. Meanwhile, 3M recently announced a global phase-out of PFAS production.
“REI’s announcement is welcome news to all those who have been pressing the company to do the right thing for years,” said Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG. “REI has finally recognized that dangerous PFAS toxins do not belong in our clothing. This move also sends a clear message that quality outdoor clothing can be made without these toxins, and therefore the time is ripe to require all manufacturers to stop using PFAS.”
“We are so pleased that REI has finally listened to its members. No one’s drinking water should be polluted for a raincoat,” said Mike Schade, director of Mind the Store, a program of Toxic-Free Future. “Our national campaign efforts helped make all the difference. REI’s commitment will have nationwide impacts by protecting more people from toxic chemicals and by driving ripple effects in the marketplace. REI must take the next step and work with its brand partners to ensure the substitutes are truly safer for people and the planet. And, other retailers, like Dick’s Sporting Goods, must quickly follow suit.”
BACKGROUND ON PFAS “FOREVER CHEMICALS”
Chemical companies sell PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) for application to products such as paper and textiles as stain-resistant, water-repellent, and grease-proofing treatments. PFAS have been linked to serious health problems such as cancer, immune system suppression, increased cholesterol levels, pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, reduced fertility, and increased risk of thyroid disease. PFAS are known as “forever” chemicals because they persist and don’t break down in the environment.
Last year, Toxic-Free Future released a study that found PFAS in most products labeled stain- and water-resistant, with 72% testing positive for PFAS—including products from REI, Amazon, and others. A 2021 peer-reviewed study led by scientists at Toxic-Free Future (TFF), the University of Washington, and Indiana University found PFAS in 100% of breast milk samples tested and that newer PFAS build up in people. Toxic-Free Future’s 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.
State governments are taking legislative and regulatory actions to phase out PFAS in products to prevent contamination in favor of safer alternatives. For example, laws in ME and WA have given state agencies authority to ban PFAS in a wide range of products. Maine’s law requires product manufacturers to disclose the presence of PFAS. Several states have adopted restrictions on PFAS in textiles with CA banning PFAS in almost all textiles by 2025, NY restricting them in apparel, CO banning them in upholstered furniture, and WA moving forward on regulatory actions on many categories of textile products. Five states (CA, CO, ME, MD, VT) have adopted restrictions on PFAS in carpets, rugs and aftermarket treatments. Eleven states (CA, CO, CT, HI, MD, ME, MN, NY, RI, VT, and WA) have enacted state bans on PFAS in food packaging. CO also adopted restrictions on oil and gas products and personal care products. Eleven states including CA, CO, CT, HI, IL, ME, MD, NH, NY, VT, and WA have put in place bans on the sale of firefighting foam containing PFAS. With legislation adopted last year, WA is evaluating safer alternatives for PFAS in other products such as apparel, cleaners, coatings and floor finishes, firefighter turnout gear and others with a timeline of adopting restrictions by 2025.
Retailers are increasingly adopting safer chemicals policies to eliminate PFAS in key product sectors, according to the 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. In July 2022, Columbia committed to a goal of phasing out PFAS by the end of 2024. In 2021, 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. Currently, over 30 unique retail chains with more than 150,000 stores and more than $654 billion in sales have committed to eliminating or reducing PFAS in food packaging, textiles, and/or other products.