Outdoor Jackets and PFCs
Written by Dr Klaus L.E. Kaiser
The Greenpeace (GP) Detox Campaign to get rid of a variety of materials in textiles is in its third year. Let’s dig into just one aspect of it, namely per- and poly-fluorinated compounds (PFCs for short) that are used to make water repelling or waterproof high quality outdoor gear such as rain jackets and hiking boots.
Let’s look at their claim and findings a bit closer. To begin with, what does “fluorinated” actually mean?
What does “Fluorinated” mean?
Fluorinated or polyfluorinated means in this textile context that there are some materials in the product that contain the element fluorine tightly bound in the matrix. The chemical element fluorine (as its anion “fluoride”) is an important component of our bones and teeth. In form of the mineral fluoroapatite, that fluorine is particularly important to our wellbeing as it provides for the hardness and durability of the tooth enamel. On a percentage basis, fluorine makes up approximately 0.2% of the body’s mineral content. Fluorine deficiency can lead to bone and tooth decay, osteoporosis and arthritis.
Also, widely unknown or un-acknowledged, nature also produces organo-fluorine compounds in plants that occur on three or more continents like the pesticidal fluoroacetic acid.
The Greenpeace Claim
Greenpeace (GP) claims that such textile materials can cause a variety of deleterious effects (of course at entirely unrealistic concentrations) like “studies indicate that PFCs can cause adverse impacts both during development and during adulthood,” etc. In fact, the PFCs are neither ubiquitous (as also claimed) at any but ultra-trace levels nor of any particular environmental or health concern. Yes, some PFCs have been found in samples of Arctic air at levels of 10^-12 g/m^3 as well as in polar bear livers at levels in the order of 10^-11 g/kg.
The bears are thought to get the materials from their predominant food source, the seals. Entirely apart from that, polar bear livers are not consumed by people anyway due to their natural high levels of vitamin A that would cause potentially fatal hypervitaminosis-A. In contrast, the observed PFC levels are orders of magnitude below any effects either on the bears or anyone consuming their flesh.
One important question about all environmental studies is how many samples were taken, not just where and when but under what circumstances/precautions for secondary contamination. For example, when looking for trace quantities of substances typically associated with good outdoor gear, what type of fabrics and so on were used by the people collecting, dissecting and transporting the samples? More likely than not, at least a few people working on such studies were using Gore-Tex™ or similar PFC-impregnated-type clothing—and for good reason.
Any proper environmental study must take various kinds of blanks to make sure that there are not any unforeseen sample contamination problems like, for example, from the clothing of the people taking the samples or from the solvents and equipment used in the laboratory. Of course, most of the highly touted reports do not mention such silly little details; after all, their originators are superior beings and don’t need to adhere to such rigid scientific standards.
To back up their claim about such (as they term it) “hazardous chemicals” in textiles, the peaceniks actually had some analyses undertaken and the results are available in their “technical report,” published in February of 2014. Mind you, when you actually look at that report, you’ll have difficulties finding much substance to their claim. To begin with, the number of waterproof outdoor jackets analyzed for PFCs amounts to a grand total of ONE – not exactly what I call a representative survey. So, let’s go on to the analytical method used and the actual findings.
Method and Findings
Two samples were cut from the jacket, one sample extracted with boiling methanol and the other with methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) using ultrasound. Such chemically harsh conditions would certainly liberate even tightly bound surface coatings from the fibres and possibly from within such. It is obvious that these extraction methods do not simulate normal wear and tear of the garment. Now, what were then the actual findings?
The jacket samples were tested for the presence of 21 individual PFC compounds. All but two of them were below the detection limit. Of the two compounds found, only one (perfluoro-octanoic acid, PFOA) is restricted by European law to a limit of 1.0 microgram (10^-6 g) per square meter (m^2) of textile. Despite the harsh extraction method used, the level of PFOA detected in the sample showed only a concentration of 0.333 microgram/m^2 PFOA (Appendix 4, Table A4b of the technical report 01-2014). In other words, the PFOA concentration in the jacket was well below the legal limit. The second compound detected had an even lower concentration but that substance is not restricted anyway.
So, how did GP actually report this finding to the public?
Their press release of Dec. 12, 2013, a few weeks ahead of the release of the actual data details, GP said in large bold capital letters (translated from German):
OUTDOOR JACKETS EXUDE CHEMICALS
As far as I can see, any exudations of PFCs come solely from the minds of GP activists and not from outdoor jackets. To its own great benefit, the public is wising up and stopped falling for reckless GP claims!
Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts convenientmyths.com
Dr. Kaiser can be reached at:email@example.com