By Elise Nam, Alliance Intern from Barnard College ‘24
I first learned about PFAS “forever chemicals” when I discovered that non-stick cookware is coated with them. Horrified that I was unintentionally exposing myself and the environment to them, I wondered why they weren’t banned. PFAS, also known as PFCs or PFOAs, are polyfluorinated chemicals which do not naturally occur in the environment. These “forever chemicals accumulate in the air, water, food, and even our bodies, and they raise serious health concerns, according to the Environmental Protection Agency,” says Patagonia.
Most water-repellent outdoor gear contain these harmful chemicals. A number of brands have been working to develop effective, safe alternatives. One of the leaders has been Patagonia who has attempted to find alternatives for PFAS for the past decade. They’ve been having breakthroughs. Consequently, Patagonia has just announced its commitment to phasing out PFCs and PFAS on all water-repellent gear by 2025.
Between 2013 and 2016, the company moved to using a shorter chain fluorocarbon treatment which was deemed ‘safer’ at the time. Upon further research, Patagonia determined that these supposedly safer PFAS were just as harmful to people and the environment. Consequently, they went back to the drawing board to develop safer alternatives.
In the Fall of 2019 they launched their first products without PFCs, and in 2021 eliminated PFCs from both the durable water-repellent coating as well as the water-repellent membrane. By the Fall of 2023, Patagonia succeeded in having 92% of its water-repellent materials (by volume) made without PFCs.
The company is continuing to invest in making all of their membranes and water-repellent finishes without PFCs or PFAS by 2025. While they have long sought to solve this challenge, they now have extra incentive to move things forward because at least 4 states have been developing regulations to eliminate PFCs from most clothing – Minnesota, California, New York and Colorado.
Patagonia should be commended for its willingness to collaborate and share its safe PFC alternative technological breakthroughs with its competitors in order to address the widespread global challenge posed by PFAS. It’s our hope that Patagonia’s hard work will inspire other companies to join together to make a similar commitment and that alternatives can be found for all of the other uses of PFAS.