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Major Fashion, Outdoor Wear Companies to Phase Out PFAS

Business
A woman walks past The North Face store in Leeds, England.
A woman walks past The North Face store while shopping in Leeds, England on May 27, 2021. Nathan Stirk / Getty Images
VF Corporation, which owns major fashion and outerwear apparel brands such as The North Face, Vans, Supreme, and Timberland, has recently announced a company-wide decision to phase out per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS or "forever chemicals," from its products. These chemicals will be mostly phased out of company products by 2025.

PFAS are a group of over 9,000 chemicals that are long-lasting and break down very slowly over time. According to the EPA, these chemicals are now so prevalent that they can be found in the blood of many humans and other animals globally. Because these substances are now also found in many consumer products, they've made their way into the environment.

Some studies have shown links between PFAS and human health risks, but ultimately, the real dangers of these "forever chemicals" and how much we are exposed to them are still unknown. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, under the CDC, states that PFAS may contribute to changes in liver enzymes, higher risk of kidney and testicular cancers, increased cholesterol levels, lower vaccine response in children, and more potential health risks. Many experts say the risks of PFAS exposure for humans is likely underestimated.

In its announcement, VF Corporation outlined that it aims to remove PFAS as well as formaldehyde, flame retardants, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and restricted phthalates, among other chemicals, from products by 2025 for safer consumer products.

"Smart, safe, preferred chemistry is at the core of VF's promise to deliver responsibly made products, and it plays an integral role in protecting people and the planet," the company said of the plan. "Responsibly managed chemistry enables us to create high-performance products that consumers trust. Our goal is to eliminate and/or restrict 100% of unwanted chemicals or substances, using the innovative CHEM-IQSM program from VF's supply chain by 2025."

Eliminating the majority of PFAS in its products is part of several new sustainability goals for VF Corporation. In a report Made for Change, the company shares 12 sustainability targets covering people, planet, and product. Goals include worker well-being, community impact, waste reduction, reducing emissions (in part by turning to more renewable energies), and more sustainable product materials and packaging.

As noted by NRDC in a statement, there is no clear timeline for VF Corporation to phase out PTFE, a type of PFAS:

As evidenced by its announcement, VF recognizes the harm posed by all PFAS chemicals and commits to phase out the majority of them by 2025. It does not, however, establish a timeline to phase out PTFE — a known PFAS chemical widely used throughout the outdoor industry for water and stain resistance. To combat the growing PFAS crisis, VF should establish a concrete timeline to eliminate PTFE from its supply chain.
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