Smarter Living: Stuff
Greener Rain Gear
In regions like the Pacific Northwest, where a drizzle can turn into a downpour in a moment, reliable rain gear is essential. But in order to keep water from soaking us to the bone, rain gear is often treated with a water-repellent finish that can pose health and environmental hazards. Before you pick up a new slicker, read on to find out which raincoats to avoid and which will whisk away water safely.
In 2000, the toxic PFC perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), used to make Gore-Tex and similar water-repellent finishes, was phased out of U.S. production. However, the likely human carcinogen perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is still being used, pending a 2015 phaseout deadline set by the EPA. Exposure to PFOA has been shown to harm the development of mice fetuses, significantly lowering the number of live births, according to a study in the April 2006 Toxicological Sciences. While author Christopher Lau, PhD., cautions that his results cannot yet be extrapolated to humans, he notes that "children's exposure [levels] are significant and it's a conundrum why they are. My guess is that they received exposure during pregnancy and through breast milk."
In spite of their hazards, perfluorochemicals remain the finishes of choice for manufacturers from Drizabone to L.L. Bean to Eddie Bauer, thanks to their versatility and lightness. While wearing a PFC-treated raincoat won't expose you to the chemical, buying one supports the release of PFOA into the environment--and, ultimately, into our bodies--during manufacturing.
Look for: Recycled Polyester, Polyurethane and Wax-Coated Gear
Polyester resists water without an added surface coating. Because polyester is petroleum based, look for products made from recycled material, such as Sierra Designs Cyclone Eco Jacket (www. sunnysports.com). Polyurethane is a frequently used alternative to PFCs, and though it is petroleum derived, its production does not pose a threat to the population near processing plants. REIs Elements waterproof/breathable products all have a polyurethane coating. Also look for wax-coated clothing like the wax cotton jackets from J. Barbour & Sons. The sylkoil wax is petroleum based, but it offgasses quickly when worn outdoors and can protect without reapplication for years.
last revised 11/29/2011