Danish retailer Coop and fashin giant H&M Group have joined NGO ChemSec’s corporate campaign to end the use of harmful PFAS chemicals in products and supply chains.
PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) is a chemical family consisting of almost 5,000 industrially produced chemicals. In manufacturing, PFAS are favoured for their durability and well-functioning properties; they provide properties such as non-stick, water repellence and anti-grease to many types of products, including cosmetics, food packaging, frying pans, outdoor gear and firefighting foam.
ChemSec says that the industrial use of PFAS has been so prevalent in the last decades that today 99% of every human, including foetuses, have measurable levels of PFAS in their bloodstreams. Some human epidemiological studies have found associations between PFAS exposure and a number of health disorders, including various cancers, lowered birth weights and negative effects on the immune system.
“We know that these are very persistent man-made forever chemicals linked to many serious environmental and human health problems,” said Coop Denmark’s quality manager, Malene Teller Blume. “Therefore, we are calling for the phase-out of all non-essential uses of all PFAS because we need everyone to take action, not just a limited number of frontrunners.”
She said the organisation phased out PFASs in cosmetics in September last year and has banned the use of all the substances in food packaging and textiles.
ChemSec’s corporate PFAS initiative calls for policymakers to regulate PFASs efficiently so that manufacturers cannot swap one PFAS for another unregulated PFAS; the chemical industry to invest in innovation and develop safer alternatives to PFASs; a recognition that PFASs are a major health and environmental problem; a serious commitment to end all non-essential uses of the substances in products and supply chains; and for other brands to join this commitment and work towards a phase-out of PFASs.
Chemsec’s executive director, Anne-Sofie Bäckar, said it is “obvious that business as usual is not an option”, but acknowledges that change will not come easy.
“[change] will require policymakers to make some uncomfortable decisions. As there are almost unbelievable amounts of money in PFAS production, parts of the industry will fight for the old ways, tooth and nail. But as we can show today with this corporate commitment, there are companies that welcome legislation and say a definitive No to PFAS“
She adds: “At ChemSec, we know there are thousands of companies out there that support legislative action and also have very advanced strategies to limit their use of PFAS. We seriously hope that these companies will join H&M and Coop Denmark in this great initiative.”
The commitment from the two retailers came on the same day that award-winning actor Mark Ruffalo and director Todd Haynes addressed the EU Parliament to speak about the true story that inspired the duo’s latest film Dark Waters, in which an environmental attorney takes on chemical giant DuPont and exposes decades of PFAS pollution.