Test of chemicals in hardshell jackets

12. sep 2019

Hardshell jackets may contain problematic fluorinated compounds. The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals has tested 11 popular jackets. 3 hardshells are free from fluorinated substances.

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Test: Chemicals in hardshell jackets
Photo: Benjamin Media

PFC makes the jacket waterproof, but is problematic

Hardshells are thin, breathable and waterproof jackets. Many producers use fluorinated substances in the production of the jackets, because the substances have useful water repellant abilities.

Fluorinated substances can be harmful to the environment and to human health.

Researchers from The Nordic Council have assessed that around 12,000 people in the EU die each year because of exposure to fluorinated compounds.

Fluorinated substances are used widespread in many everyday products, such as outdoor clothing, food packaging, cosmetics and many other uses. In order to lower the use of PFC and exposure, it is a good idea to avoid the substances when possible.

Read report: The cost of inaction, The Nordic Council of Ministers

Request ”PFC-free” or ”fluorine free” labelled products

The test shows, that it is possible to find hardshell jackets without fluorinated compounds.

3 out of 11 hardshells were free from PFC, in both the DWR (Durable Water Repellant) and in the membrane of the jacket.

Labelling such as ”PFC-free", "Fluorine free" and "Fluorocarbon free" indicates that the jacket is without fluorinated substances.

The test shows that the marketing of the testet jackets were in accordance with the test findings. This means that the jackets which were promoted as ”PFC-free”, were indeed without fluorinated substances.

Read about all tests performed by the Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals

Check both the impregnation and membrane for fluorinated substances

Both the impregnation and the membrane of the hardshell jacket may contain fluorinated compounds. Because of this you need to check both.

The impregnation, also known as DWR (Durable Water Repellent), is without fluorinated compounds if the jacket is labelled PFC-free DWR. This labeling only covers the impregnation, so you also need to check the membrane.

Membranes from Gore-tex contain the fluorinated substance PTFE. Avoid Gore-tex if you want products that are without fluorinated substances.

It is not the single jacket that consititutes a health or environmental problem. But fluorinated substances in jackets may contribute to your total chemical exposure - also known as the cocktail effect.

See the test with product pictures (In Danish)

Here are the test results

Hardshell jackets without PFC:

  • Asivik Storm 3.1
  • Fjällräven Keb Eco-Shell Jacket
  • Lundhags Salpe

Hardshell jackets with PFC:

  • Häglöffs Astral (only membrane, DWR is PFC free)
  • Bergans Eidfjord (DWR)
  • Sherpa Lithang Jacket (DWR)
  • Arcteryx Beta SL Hybrid (DWR+membrane)
  • Norrøna Falketind  (DWR+membrane)
  • Patagonia Triolet jacket(DWR+membrane)
  • The North Face Apex Flex GTX 2.0 (DWR+membrane)
  • Tierra Nevado Jacket Gen 2 (DWR+membrane)

See the test with product pictures (In Danish)

How we tested

11 waterproof hardshell jackets have been selected, covering a wide range of brands on the Danish market. All tested models are available in model for both women and men. The test has been performed as a part of an international collaboration, where the performance of the jackets also has been tested – water resistance, durability, breathability and usertesting.

See the test with product pictures (In Danish)

The outer fabric of the jackets has gone through variable tests to determine if they contain fluorinated substances:

  • Total organic fluorine. This test shows the total amount of organic fluorinated substances, both from the membrane and the DWR.
  • XRF screening of fluorine atoms on the surface of the jackets inner and outer side.
  • Volatile organic fluorinated substances. This test shows if the material releases organic fluorine when heated.

 

What the companies say

Hardshells with PTFE-membrane (Gore-Tex), but no PFC DWR

Haglöfs Astral:

Haglöfs informs that the jacket has been produced with a new DWR, that does not contain PFC. The fluorinated substances found in the test comes from the PTFE-membrane. Haglöfs refers to that Gore (who supplies the Gore-Tex material) works on producing PTFE without emitting PFC from the production.

Hardshells with PFC DWR

Bergans Eidfjord:

“This jacket is in a category, where we have chosen to use this type of DWR (short chained PFC, C6) to guarantee a long term waterproof material, also after prolonged used. Bergans relates to Norwegian legislation (which is more strict than the EU legislation).”

Sherpa Lithang Jacket:

“We currently use C6 DWR’s for our shell program. We are looking to remove all long chain fluorocarbons from our DWR’s as soon as possible whilst making sure that we maintain performance. We will aim to reach this in 2020.”

Hardshells with PFC DWR and PTFE-membrane (Gore-Tex)

Arcteryx Beta SL Hybrid:

“We have switched from long chained PFC to short chained PFC, but we acknowledge that it is not an ideal solution. Unfortunately, there is no available, thoroughly examined technical solution to replace PFC. All the materials we have tested loose effect after a short time of regular use.

We will continue our active effort to find a new solution that fulfills the wish for stopping the use of PFC and delivers products with high performance and durability”

Norrøna Falketind:

“For many years Norrøna has worked on eliminating fluorine from our products. In 2020 it is our goal to remove all fluorine from our clothing. In 2018 we reached 69 percent.”

Patagonia Triolet jacket:

“We are targeting Fall 2021 to be 85 percent free of PFC-based DWR chemistries in our product.  “

Patagonia does not comment on phasing out Gore-Tex membranes with PTFE.

The North Face Apex Flex GTX 2.0:

“We have set a goal to transition to 100 percent non-fluorinated DWR apparel materials by 2020.”

The North Face does not comment on phasing out Gore-Tex membranes with PTFE.

Tierra Nevado Jacket Gen 2:

“We have a company goal to completely phase out the use of PFC DWRs in our garments. Today we have eight products in our assortment with PFC DWR, out of 170 articles. We are planning to launch garments with PFC-free DWR for extreme conditions within the coming years. When we launch the new products we want the material to have been tested at least three years field testing. At the moment our test materials with PFC free DWR have been out in the field for 1.5 years, and it looks promising.”

Tierra does not comment on phasing out Gore-Tex membranes with PTFE.

3 tips: How to avoid PFC in outdoor wear

1. Choose ”Fluorocarbon free” or ”PFC free”

2. Check both membrane and impregnation for fluorinated substances

3. Maintain the water repellancy with an impregnation without fluorinated substances

Labelling such as “PFOA free” and “OEKO-tex” do not guarantee that the product is without PFC.

PFC in impregantion is more problematic than in the membrane

Fluorinated substances can be used in both impregnation and membrane.

Membranes of PTFE are stable, but the production of PTFE can contaminate the environment with other fluorinated substances, and also contribute to the environmental load of these unwanted substances. The PTFE membrane might contain impurities of other fluorinated substances.

The impregnation /DWR may contain fluorinated substances, that are not stable in the same way, but may be volatile and can be broken down. The DWR therefore leads to a higher exposure to the fluorinated substances.

Fluorinated substances end up in the environment, regardless if they are released from production or through daily use. They are dispersed all over the globe, and they are very persistant, so they are only very slowly degraded. All people in the world have fluorinated substances in their blood.

The Danish EPA reccomend that consumers avoid PFC in their outdoor wear.