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PFAS and Winter Outerwear: A Regulatory Update

By Chris Pew on

PFAS are a hot topic these days, and we pulled this article together to help answer some of your most frequently asked questions:

  • What are they?
  • How do they affect your outdoor gear, and more specifically your winter outerwear?
  • What is TREW doing about them?
  • And finally, how will the removal of PFAS from your gear affect its waterproofing?

Without further ado, let's jump in!

What are PFAS?

PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, is a family of thousands of highly persistent synthetic chemicals that are used widely in consumer products and commercial applications. You can find PFAS in food packaging, cleaners, firefighting foams and textiles. To make things extra complicated, the EPA has identified over 9,200 unique chemical structures that are classified as PFAS. 

Where are PFAS found in outdoor gear?

PFAS are found in the DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coatings on technical textiles often used for waterproof apparel, bags, or tents. As discussed above, there are many chemicals that fall under the PFAS classification.

For a deeper dive about DWR, go check out our DWR Blog

C6 vs C8

The first and worst offender in the outdoor industry is PFOA. This chemical was found in most DWR coatings (designated as “C8” or “long-chain”) before 2015. It was a chemical that was also found in Gore Tex waterproof membranes up until about 2017.

Most outdoor companies switched to “C6” or “shorter-chain” DWR coatings around 2015 or before. For example, in TREW’s case, we’ve been using exclusively C6 DWR since 2011. C6 was believed to be less bio-available to humans and thus less of a risk as an environmental contaminant. 

Today, given the definitive research that shows while C6 might be less bioavailable to humans, it is no less persistent in the environment than C8 chemicals, many companies have already begun switching to PFAS-free or “C0” DWR coatings. Furthermore, regulations in Europe and North America have begun to address the use of PFAS in consumer products. 

The History of PFAS Regulation 

Chemical companies and producers of PFAS chemicals have known about he potential health and environmental hazards to PFAS since the landmark case brought against DuPont in 1999. You can read about litigation and history to the claims in this excellent NY Times article. Or you can just watch the movie “Dark Waters” staring Mark Ruffalo.

The outdoor industry was largely awoken to our “DWR Problem” by a series of reports released by Greenpeace in 2016. Shortly following the Greenpeace reports, many European countries banned the use of long-chain PFAS chemicals such as PFOA and PFOS in accordance to PFOA being added to the list of banned chemicals in the Stockholm Convention in 2019. 

Current PFAS Regulation in the United States

A series of bills are now regulating and banning the use of PFAS in consumer products:

TREW Fall 2024 Outerwear will be PFAS-Free

We have been phasing out PFAS from our sub-fabrics and trims since 2020 and the final stage in becoming PFAS-free, for us, is our waterproof fabrics. Beginning in Fall 2024, all textiles in newly produced apparel will be PFAS-free. 

The burning question: What will happen to the performance of my TREW gear?

We subject all of our textiles to rigorous testing and have found PFAS-free chemistry that can produce desirable results for waterproof gear. The water repellency of our new PFAS-free DWR is as good as our former C6 coating. We are able to achieve a passing grade on the Bundesman Test (ISO 9865:1991) with our new PFAS-free DWR. 

The challenge with PFAS-free chemistry is not water-repellency, it is oil-repellency. Contaminants from your environment or body (chairlift grease, sled oil, naturally occurring oils on your skin) are not easily repelled by the new coatings. These contaminants can absorb water and cause your fabrics to “wet-out” much faster than with C6 DWR. 

The good news? You can wash these contaminants away in the laundry. You will need to wash your PFAS-free gear more, but with proper care, you will not notice a decline in your gear’s ability to keep you dry. 

Learn more about keeping your gear clean and preforming at its best in the below gear care articles:

View all of our Gear Care + Repair articles here!

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