Greenpeace discovers hazardous chemicals in remote mountain areas on three continents

Press release - 2015-09-08
Zurich, 8 August 2015 – Persistent and Hazardous chemicals used in the production of outdoor gear have left their mark in even the most remote and seemingly untouched places on Earth, a Greenpeace Germany report released today has found.

As part of the report, entitled "Footprints in the snow - Hazardous PFCs in remote locations around the globe", eight Greenpeace teams led expeditions to investigate remote mountain ranges and lakes on three continents. Snow and water samples were taken in Chile, China, Italy, three Nordic countries, Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland and Turkey, and analysed for environmentally hazardous per- and poly-fluorinated chemicals (PFCs).

”We found traces of PFCs in snow samples from all of the sites that Greenpeace teams visited,” said Mirjam Kopp, Greenpeace Switzerland toxics campaigner. “It is deeply concerning to see that these persistent and hazardous chemicals have already reached the most pristine and remote corners of the world.”

The highest concentrations were found in samples from the Alps (Switzerland), the High Tatras (Slovakia) and the Apennines (Italy). The levels found are comparable to other studies that analysed surface snow in the Tibetan mountains and Antarctica. 

PFCs are used in many industrial processes and consumer products. The outdoor industry in particular is an important user, since it applies PFCs to make products waterproof and dirt-repellent. Once released into the environment, PFCs are broken down only very slowly; they remain in the environment for many years and are dispersed across the entire planet. Some PFCs cause harm to reproduction, promote the growth of tumours and affect the hormone system. 

Most of the samples also contained so-called short-chain PFCs - advertised by the industry as harmless – and increasingly used by outdoor brands instead of long-chain PFCs.  

As this report demonstrates, volatile PFCs such as the ones currently used by outdoor brands are being transported and deposited even in remote mountainous regions around the world. The outdoor sector uses images of beautiful mountain landscapes, majestic forests, freshly fallen snow and clean rivers to convey the idea of freedom and love of nature. These positive images are heavily promoted by manufacturers of all-weather clothing and have brought strong double-digit growth in recent years. 

”It is ironic to think that companies who depend on nature for their business willingly release dangerous chemicals into the environment,” said Mirjam Kopp, toxics campaigner. “Outdoor companies must take leadership for a better environment by making a genuine and credible commitment to stop using hazardous chemicals. They need to set short-term deadlines for completely eliminating the entire group of PFCs in production processes.”

Some brands that also produce outdoor clothing, such as Puma and Adidas, have already adopted ambitious elimination targets for PFCs. Some smaller outdoor companies, such as Fjällräven, Paramo, Pyua, Rotauf, and R'ADYS, already have entire collections of functional weatherproof clothing that are PFC-free. In contrast, leading outdoor companies such as The North Face, Columbia, Patagonia, Salewa and Mammut have shown little sense of responsibility when it comes to eliminating hazardous chemicals such as PFCs.  

Nature lovers, outdoor and wilderness enthusiasts such as climbers, skiers and walkers, city dwellers and families – anyone who cares about the future of our wild places and our own health and environment – can join the movement on asking the outdoor sector to get rid of hazardous chemicals. Together, outdoor lovers can challenge their favourite brands to become Detox Champions and stop the spread of PFCs across the planet.