It’s Time for Textile Certifications to Be Part of the PFAS Solution
April 19, 2022
As the evidence of harm caused by per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) swells, the urgency to address key uses such as in clothing, upholstery, and other textiles grows. Most recently, Toxic-Free Future published the results of their new study on textile products labeled as stain- or water-resistant, finding that 72% of the products tested contained toxic PFAS chemicals.
One way that customers and large purchasers like cities, schools and companies can know whether the products they want to purchase are PFAS-free is a system called third-party certification. Under this system, an independent organization reviews a manufacturer’s products and/or processes and attests that they meet specific standards for safety, environmental impact, or other metrics that the independent organization has created. What these specific environmental standards are varies greatly among “green” certifiers claiming to verify what is an environmentally preferable product. When it comes to PFAS, those green certifications don’t seem to mean very much.
While there are a few textile certifiers such as GreenScreen that restrict the use of all PFAS chemicals in their certified products, most textile certifications restrict only a tiny handful of PFAS among this class of 12,000+ chemicals. Indeed, a recent study by Silent Spring Institute found similar PFAS concentrations in water- and/or stain-resistant products, whether or not they were green-certified.
In order to make it easier to identify and purchase safer, PFAS-free textile products, Safer States, Natural Resources Defense Council, Toxic-Free Future, and nine other environmental organizations from around the country recently sent letters to the major textile certifiers AFIRM, bluesign®, OEKO-TEX® and ZDHC, urging them to update their standards to address the entire class of PFAS.
The letter noted that green certifications present a key opportunity to prevent further PFAS contamination, but only if the standards ban the use of the entire class of PFAS. If certifiers only have a small number of PFAS chemicals on their restricted substance lists, companies can simply switch which individual PFAS compounds they are using–promoting the continued use of these highly toxic and persistent chemicals.
Textile certifiers are lagging behind what is happening around the country as states and companies take action to address PFAS in textiles. Washington state just adopted a policy to restrict PFAS in apparel and outerwear by 2025 under the Safer Products for Washington Act where it is currently restricting PFAS in carpets, rugs and home furnishings. Policy is currently pending in California, New York, Minnesota and Rhode Island to ban PFAS in apparel. Vermont and Maine have also banned PFAS from carpets, rugs and aftermarket treatments. Manufacturers are taking note and some leading textile, apparel and outdoor companies like Jack Wolfskin, Milliken and Polartec are taking action to eliminate the entire class of PFAS from their product lines. Consumers are also demanding action on PFAS: more than 60,000 people signed petitions and sent emails to the outdoor retailer REI asking for the company to stop selling products containing PFAS.
Given how toxic and ever-lasting these compounds are, it is critical that all PFAS chemicals urgently be phased out. (The United Nations Human Rights Commission has even called for a ban on all PFAS uses.) In the meantime, consumers and businesses need to know how to buy PFAS-free products. AFIRM, bluesign®, OEKO-TEX® and ZDHC should quickly update their standards to address all PFAS chemicals and customers should look for textile products that are certified by an organization like GreenScreen that doesn’t allow any PFAS to be added to certified products.