This week, REI Co-op made an announcement that the company would be phasing out toxic PFAS “Forever Chemicals” from cookware and textile products as outlined in their Product Impact Standards Version 3.0, February 2023. The new policy will have a far reaching impact, affecting REI’s 1,000+ brand partners and suppliers.
REI stated, “The new version builds upon the co-op’s existing standards, while elevating expectations in three key areas: fighting climate change, advancing inclusion in the outdoors and managing chemicals.”
REI is one of the nation’s largest outdoor clothing retailers and has been under pressure from health and environmental nonprofits and concerned consumers to remove PFAS from products sold in their stores.
REI’s new standards also follow a consumer protection lawsuit filed against the company by Toxin Free USA in October, 2022. The lawsuit cited high levels of organofluorine, an indicator of PFAS, detected in an REI Kid’s Rainwall Jacket.
The company’s new standards state that all cookware supplied to REI be free of PFAS by fall of 2024 and all textile products, with the exception of ‘outdoor apparel for severe wet conditions’, supplied to REI be free of PFAS by fall of 2024. PFAS will be removed from all remaining textile products by fall 2026.
First developed in the 1940s, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of over 10,000 highly toxic fluorinated man-made chemicals, which include PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and PTFE. PFAS are used in consumer products for their ability to repel water, grease, and stains.
PFAS chemicals are also known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment. They bioaccumulate in the body and are linked to cancer, especially in the kidneys, pancreas and testes. Studies also link them to thyroid disease, liver damage, weakened immunity, hormone disruption, obesity, birth defects and harmful developmental effects in infants, and to infertility in both women and men.
PFAS are harmful at levels in the parts-per-trillion – levels found in a range of consumer products such as food packaging, personal care products, furniture, clothing (especially outdoor clothing) and Teflon-based nonstick cookware.
To date, the U.S. EPA has declined to regulate the growing number of PFAS forever chemicals. The EPA has also failed to comprehensively address the severity of PFAS pollution and the unacceptable risks of exposure to ultra low levels.
Due to federal inaction, Toxin Free USA has taken a broad market approach, filing PFAS-related consumer protection lawsuits in the categories of clothing (REI), personal care products (Oral B Dental Floss) and cosmetics (CoverGirl), with more to come. In combination with recently passed state-level regulatory action and public pressure, manufacturers and users of PFAS will be forced to confront the problem sooner rather than later.