Lowe’s bans PFAS in select products sold in its stores

In a step forward for public health, Lowe’s has banned the sale of textile protectors containing toxic PFAS chemicals in its stores.

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl) chemicals are a class of thousands of man-made chemicals commonly used to impart increased resistance to oil, water and dirt. These chemicals have polluted the air, soil, water, plants and wildlife and endanger our health. PFAS have been linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer and developmental disorders, and can be harmful at extremely low doses. They can affect the immune system and these health effects and others can make us more vulnerable to COVID-19.

In an update to its safer chemicals policy, Lowe added a commitment that “all fabric protection sprays are free from PFAS chemicals.” The commitment follows a company pledge in 2019 to stop sales of all indoor carpets and carpets treated with these toxic chemicals. Lowe’s latest move came in the lead up to the Mind the Store campaign’s fifth annual store report card, which was released in late March.

Lowe’s shouldn’t stop there. The company must remove PFAS from all remaining product categories where these forever chemicals are still used, and ensure that any replacements are safer. Other retailers, such as The Home Depot, should also join Lowe’s to ban PFAS in these and other products.

PFAS have been linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer and developmental disorders, and can be harmful at extremely low doses.

Lowe’s new commitment comes after 3M – manufacturer of Scotchgard aerosol aerosols – stopped selling Scotchgard brand aerosols with PFAS since June. This is good news. However, it is unfortunate that 3M has reformulated its Scotchgard consumer products while at the same time continuing to claim that PFAS chemicals are safe. In addition, the company has not announced any such reformulation of its commercial fabric protectors.

Dangers of PFAS fabric protection sprays

PFAS in tissue sprays pose a significant threat to public health, especially for small children. In a 2019 report, the state of California wrote:

Carpets, rugs, upholstery, clothing, shoes and other consumer products to which PFAS treatments have been applied are becoming major sources of exposure for infants and children through direct contact and incidental ingestion of indoor dust. Young children have been shown to consume more soil and dust than adults due to greater hand-to-mouth transfer; this can result in increased exposure to PFASs found in these contaminated environmental media. (emphasis added)

In addition, when applied as an aerosol spray, the product can be inhaled and cause respiratory distress. There are several documented cases of users of PFAS-containing textile sprays hospitalized with a diagnosis of lung damage.

Product manufacturers and retailers must ensure that replacement products are safe

Removing PFAS from products and store shelves is essential in the fight to protect public health from these toxic chemicals. At the same time, manufacturers must ensure that PFAS chemicals are not substituted with other hazardous substances, commonly referred to as “regrettable substitutes”.

For example, 3M has not fully disclosed the chemicals in some of its reformulated Scotchgard products. In addition, every safety data sheet we reviewed for the reformulated products showed at least one ingredient associated with potential health risks.

As commitments to remove PFAS from products on store shelves gain steam, manufacturers must ensure that replacements are safer. Safer alternatives to fabric protectors that contain PFAS already exist – for example, products on the market that use beeswax and vegetable waxes and oils to provide water resistance. In order to allow regulatory authorities and retailers to independently evaluate product reformulations and to allow the public to make a more informed decision about safety, manufacturers must disclose all ingredients used in all dust protectors they make.

It’s time we shut off these toxic chemicals forever and make sure substitutes are truly safe.

State and federal regulators must intervene

In the absence of voluntary disclosure by manufacturers, state and federal regulators must step in and require companies to disclose the ingredients used in all textile protection products. Nothing short of full disclosure will adequately protect the public from substituting PFAS with other hazardous chemicals.

California and Washington are moving in this direction. In November 2019, the State of California determined that PFAS-containing textile treatments used by consumers to make fabrics waterproof or soil-resistant are a public health hazard and is working to issue definitive regulations that would limit their use. As part of this effort, the state has been mandated to recommend safer alternatives to the public and manufacturers.

Washington State has followed suit and listed aftermarket stain and water resistance treatments along with carpets and leather and textile furniture as priority products for PFAS removal under the Safer Products for Washington law. Under this law, Washington State can require ingredients in alternatives to be disclosed so that they can be assessed for safety.

It’s time we shut off these toxic chemicals forever and make sure substitutes are truly safe.

This post originally appeared on NRDC’s Expert Blog.

Comments are closed.