Climbing gear vs. environmental impact.

Once again the long-awaited weekend arrives! You are so ready to work on that project that does not let you sleep in peace. Get your backpack ready, all geared up, and put on your Gore-Tex jacket and boots so you are well-prepared for any weather condition that may arise. That seemed a standard practice, common and current, and wholly responsible. We always rely on the professionals of clothing and mountain gear as we know how much time and money they invest in their research so that they can apply the best tech into their products right?

That is the reason of why a lot of us went crazy when launching technologies such as Gore-Tex, a professional treatment that promised to keep us dry under the most extreme weather conditions. I must accept that at least, I was excited when buying my boots and jacket. However, recent publications arisen controversy about these fantastic products, as the clothing and some gear we use when doing our outdoor activities have a negative impact on the environment and our health. I found a bit ironic that people who carry out activities in nature use products that harm it so much.

I gave myself the task of doing a bit of research, with the idea of having as much information as possible so that we can make responsible decisions. I reviewed respected online sources. Among them, an article by Enrique Zaragoza who pointed out interesting insights that I reproduced in this article. I discovered that some of the largest and well recognized outdoor clothing companies use a chemical called Fluorocarbon (PFCs). The PFCs are part of a group of chemical compounds that, due to their carbon and fluorine bonds, have physical properties that make them impervious and non-stick. These bonds are very stable which prevents them from being biodegradable, and turns them into powerful and dangerous pollutants.

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A detailed report published by Greenpeace denounces the widespread use of highly dangerous chemicals of slow degradation when making outdoor products. ” Leading companies in the industry such as The North Face, Columbia, Patagonia, Salewa, and Mammut among others, use chemicals called PFCs, leaving a harmful impact especially on water samples. These chemicals are used in the manufacture of specialized mountain clothing to produce the inner membrane, becoming water- resistant thanks to its microporous structure. The most famous is our beloved Gore-Tex, made with a fluoropolymer (PTFE), better known as Teflon. They are also used in the repellent treatment on the surface of the fabric, which makes these products resistant to water, to oil and grease stains. This feature achieves the external treatment when carried out with PFC’s that causes the drops to escape and not absorbed by the fabric. These chemicals are used in clothing, as well as in other types of products such as footwear, tents, backpacks, ropes and even sleeping bags. The problem is that during the production of these fantastic products that are so useful to us, the factories release, mainly in water, these compounds that turn out to be toxic.

Once released into the environment, PFC s have a slow degradation. They stay in the environment for many years and spread out throughout the planet. The study was conducted by getting samples from remote areas of China, Italy, three Nordic countries, Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland, Turkey and also in Chile, specifically in the Torres del Paine National Park, declared in 2013 as the Eighth Wonder of the World. “We have found traces of harmful and dangerous perypolifluorocarbons (PFC s) for the environment in snow samples in Torres del Paine, and in all the places that have been visited by the Greenpeace teams,” said Estefanía González, a spokesperson for Greenpeace in Chile. She also said that “it is worrying to see that these chemicals, so harmful and of such slow degradation, have reached the most immaculate and remote places in the World.

PFC s are also bioaccumulative, which means that chemicals accumulate in our body. Scientists took blood samples from users of products treated with PFC s. The studies revealed that people all over the world have an accumulation of these chemicals in the blood. This accumulation causes problems in the reproductive system, increases the chance of developing tumors and affects the immune and hormonal systems. Since 2008, PFOS (a type of PFC s) are banned in Europe, although with some exceptions such as in the textile sector. PFC s are not prohibited in the United States. However, there are regulations on largest concentration of these chemicals in drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates in its report from May 2012 that more studies are needed to confirm the possible side effects in humans, because, so far most studies have been conducted in animals. What we can learn from this study without a doubt, is that these chemicals can stay in our bodies up to 4 years. (Full EPA report here, March 2014)

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According to the report, companies such as Puma and Adidas, are already taking action on eliminating the PFCs. Other smaller companies such as Fjällräven, Paramo, Pyua, Rotauf, Nikwax, Purtex or Schöeller and R’ADYS have full collections of waterproof technical clothing that do not have PFCs. Also, a polyester membrane called Sympatex is an alternative to replace the Gore-Tex. Jack Wolfskin has developed his own membrane-PFC s free called Texapore (although they still use PFCs for exterior treatment).

Finally, we can raise our voice and demand to these big brands to produce products that do not harm us or our environment. Among the Greenpeace, communication is an invitation to outdoor enthusiasts to demand to the outdoor industry to stop using these harmful chemicals. Greenpeace.cl/nocontaminen The truth is that no process is free of environmental impact, but being informed always gives us the opportunity to be more responsible in ours.

Resources

https://www.greenpeace.org/international/publication/6943/footprints-in-the-snow/

https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/7102/the-north-face-and-mammut-cant-take-pfc-pollution-back/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/25/toxic-chemicals-found-in-most-outdoor-gear

http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/ethicalreports/fashionindustry/chemicalsinoutdoorclothing.aspx

http://detox-outdoor.org

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