Toxics in Our Clothing: The Alarming Presence of PFAS and the Urgent Need for Action

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Clothing plays a vital role in our lives, providing protection, comfort, and style. However, a recent study conducted by IPEN and Arnika has revealed a disturbing truth – our clothing may contain toxic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These substances pose serious risks to both human health and the environment. In this article, we delve into the findings of the study, shed light on the dangers of PFAS, and emphasize the urgent need for global action.

The Study: Testing Jackets and Clothing Worldwide

The study focused on jackets and other clothing items marketed as water- or stain-resistant, purchased from 13 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. Of the 72 samples tested, including 56 jackets and 16 other clothing items, a staggering 65.3% contained PFAS or showed levels indicative of their presence.

Implications and Risks of PFAS

PFAS are a group of thousands of chemicals, and they are commonly used due to their water- and stain-resistant properties. However, several PFAS chemicals have been linked to adverse health effects, including developmental issues, immune system disruption, and even cancer. PFOA, one of the most common PFAS chemicals found in the tested clothing, is highly toxic and has been globally banned. Another chemical, PFDA, was also detected and is restricted under EU rules, with a global ban recommended.

The study results revealed that 16 jacket samples exceeded proposed EU limits for PFAS, while 13 jackets contained at least one PFAS above the limit. Additionally, three jackets contained levels above the limits for PFAS classified as PFCAs. Even items like swimsuits, aprons, and T-shirts were found to contain PFAS, further highlighting the widespread presence of these chemicals in our clothing.

Environmental Impact and Persistence

The disposal of PFAS-treated clothing poses a significant concern. Due to limited recycling options, most PFAS-laden textiles end up in landfills or are incinerated, releasing the chemicals into the environment. PFAS are persistent substances, meaning they do not break down easily and can accumulate in ecosystems, potentially causing long-term harm.

Exploring Safer Alternatives

Fortunately, safer alternatives to PFAS exist, and responsible companies have taken steps to eliminate these chemicals from their products. Notably, the study identified 21 water- or stain-proof jackets without PFAS, including those produced by companies such as North Face and Black Diamond, which have committed to being PFAS-free. Several other outdoor clothing companies and retailers have also embraced this commitment, highlighting the feasibility of producing clothing without PFAS.

The Need for Comprehensive Regulations

While some PFAS are regulated globally, regionally, or nationally, comprehensive regulations to protect the environment and human health from all PFAS chemicals are lacking. The current approach of regulating individual PFAS or small groups is insufficient to control these harmful substances effectively. To address this issue, a universal, class-based approach, including polymeric PFAS, is necessary. A global ban on PFAS as a group is crucial to prevent further environmental releases and human exposure.


The presence of toxic PFAS chemicals in our clothing is a significant concern that demands immediate attention. The study’s findings underscore the need for comprehensive regulations and a global ban on PFAS to safeguard both human health and the environment. By supporting responsible companies that prioritize PFAS-free production and advocating for stricter regulations, we can contribute to a future where clothing is safe, sustainable, and free from harmful chemicals.

Remember, by making informed choices and supporting brands committed to PFAS-free alternatives, we can protect ourselves, our planet, and future generations from the dangers of toxic chemicals.


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