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Scorecard Ranks Retail, Apparel Companies on PFAS Policies

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Monday, April 11, 2022   

Groups advocating for an end to the use of Perfluorinated and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS), known as "forever chemicals," ranked various retail and apparel brands on their commitments to keeping PFAS out of their products.

PFAS have been used since the 1970s to make products waterproof or stain-resistant, from nonstick pans to raincoats, but they do not break down in the environment, and they build up in fish and wildlife.

Levi Strauss and Co. got the highest marks, while Walmart, Costco, Tapestry and GIII Apparel Group received the lowest.

Deirdre Cummings, legislative director for the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, said she hopes to see more companies ban PFAS or provide up-to-date information on ongoing efforts to do so.

"Exposure to PFAS has been linked to a wide range of serious health effects, including kidney and liver disease, immune system suppression and even cancer," Cummings outlined. "The presence of PFAS in our lives is incredibly worrying."

Cummings pointed out Massachusetts-based New Balance earned a C-minus; she noted they make exceptions for use of PFAS in certain products.

She contended manufacturing PFAS puts workers at risk, and can lead to groundwater contamination from production waste.

In 2019, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection adopted a maximum containment level for PFAS chemicals in drinking water, and began testing communities' water supplies.

Cummings explained they found levels higher than the legal limit in 77 cities and towns from Cape Cod to the Berkshires.

"It means that people in those communities are having to use bottled water," Cummings observed. "Those communities are having to build new infiltration systems to mitigate the damage, which is incredibly costly, and just more and more people are exposed to this toxic chemical."

Cummings hopes in addition to pushing more companies to adopt stricter PFAS standards, the scorecard showed it is possible to have a profitable apparel brand without using these chemicals.

Groups ranging from Clean Water Action to the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts have joined the call for state reforms to speed up the process. Firefighters are regularly exposed to PFAS in firefighting foam and turnout gear.


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