Greenpeace Germany Detox Report "Chemie fuer Gipfelstuermer" on outdoor Jackets and gloves. 10/28/2013 © Thomas Einberger / Greenpeace

Here in Europe, winter has well and truly arrived and the cold is setting in. This is the one time of the year when even the most hardenned fashionistas put comfort before style - digging out those thick gloves and warm winter jackets to fight off the cold.

However, there is a more chilling toxic-truth behind these clothes.

A recent investigation by Greenpeace Germany has revealed that jackets and gloves made by well-known outdoor brands like The North Face, Jack Wolfskin, Patagonia and adidas contain chemicals that are hazardous to the environment and can pose long-term risks to human health.

What’s more, this new testing shows how these same chemicals can enter the environment, not only through our water systems, but also through the air.

Greenpeace Germany Report Chemistry for any weather II

Lab tests carried out on 17 items of outdoor clothing showed the presence of a range of hazardous chemicals and revealed some pretty startling facts:

  • All but one item contained perflurinated and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), some of which, like perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), are known to be highly persistent in the environment and can act as hormone disruptors, having adverse impacts on the reproductive system and the immune system.
  • One pair of gloves sold by Swiss manufacturer, Mammut was found to contain nine times the legal limit of hazardous PFOS.
  • Jackets made by well-known brands like adidas, Jack Wolkskin, The North Face and Salewa had high contamination levels of other hazardous PFCs.

Previous investigations by Greenpeace International have revealed how the hazardous chemicals used in textile production processes enter our water systems, both at the place of production and purchase, being released in the discharge of washing machines across the world. However, the findings of this new report show that these chemicals can also evaporate into the air, converting into acids that can easily leak back into groundwater and drinking water.

This is yet more evidence that these substances are being released into our environment without a thought for the consequences, reinforcing the need for big brands to urgently take steps to Detox their products and supply chains.

The report also reveals how, instead of employing the critical precautionary principle towards the use of chemicals (that, if you are in doubt about the consequences of the chemical you intend to use, then don’t use it), greenwashing brands like adidas prefer to choose unregulated and under-researched alternatives such as shorter chained PFCs that can be potentially just as dangerous. This is all despite the existence of environmentally friendly alternatives.

Elimination of the worst hazardous chemicals is possible and global brands like Mango and Marks & Spencer are proving to the rest of the industry that it can be done, for example, making commitments to phase out PFCs from their production processes as part of their long-term commitment to eliminate all hazardous chemicals by 2020.

Big brands like The North Face, Mammut or adidas have the power and the responsibility to follow in the footsteps of these leaders by taking the necessary steps to clean up their supply chains. 

Greenpeace Detox Report "Chemie fuer Gipfelstuermer" on outdoor Jackets and glovesGreenpeace Germany Detox Report "Chemie fuer Gipfelstuermer" on outdoor Jackets and gloves. 10/28/2013 © Thomas Einberger / Greenpeace

These outdoor companies rely upon images of beautiful mountains, majestic forests, crisp white snow and clean, flowing rivers to advertise their products, a stark contrast to their involvement in this toxic scandal.

Isn’t it time that they took steps to ensure their beautiful adverts are in line with reality by Detoxing on behalf of our planet, the people that buy their products and those suffering, first hand, the effects of toxic water pollution?

As fashion lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, skiers or just people who want to keep warm over winter, we all deserve to have clothing that doesn't contain hazardous chemicals and isn't tied to toxic water pollution.

Find out what you can do to help bring about a toxic-free future and join hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are taking action to force policy makers and brands to Detox our fashion. 

UPDATE June 2014 - Great news! adidas has agreed to stop the greenwash and come clean. Read more...

Ieva Vilimaviciute is a Detox Campaigner at Greenpeace International. You can follow her on twitter at @iewoole.