PFAS Discovered in YKK Waterproof Zippers

Two years after announcing its transition to a green waterproofing technology for its zippers in 2021, Tokyo-based trim supplier YKK is still finding traces of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) across its product lines.

“For years, YKK has been working on removing PFAS from our products, initially focusing on water repellant chemicals because PFAS have historically been used within the apparel industry to make garments water resistant,” Chris Gleeson, vice president of YKK (U.S.A.) Inc. Global Marketing Group told Sourcing Journal. “More recently, YKK tested our entire supply chain for PFAS and realized that PFAS was in the paint used on some YKK products.”

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The company proactively notified its customers of this finding and transitioned to PFAS-compliant paint as of September this year, he added. “YKK has been diligently working to stay at the forefront of this complex and ever-changing regulatory landscape [and] will continue to monitor it to ensure we remain compliant,” Gleeson said.

“We are committed to responsibly sourcing our materials and meeting PFAS regulations,” he said.

As a supplier to thousands of apparel brands, YKK aimed to get ahead of looming legislation by axing PFAS from its product offerings, announcing a partnership with non-toxic chemical solutions provider Green Theme Technologies (GTT) in July 2021. YKK said it would replace PFAS compounds with GTT’s water-free, non-toxic Empel water resistance technology on its zippers as a part of its long-term sustainability strategy.

“While YKK is known for strong internal research and development, we are always looking for innovative new technologies to complement our own,” Terry Tsukumo, vice president of YKK Global Marketing Group, said at the time, praising Empel’s ability to provide durable water protection without the use of harmful chemicals.

U.S. lawmakers are advancing legislation that would outlaw the use of “forever chemicals” across many consumer products, from waterproof outerwear to non-stick pots and pans. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated two of the most widely used PFAS chemicals, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). The law could expose apparel manufacturers to cleanup costs should PFAS chemicals used during production end up in the surrounding environment. Meanwhile, in California, apparel companies will have to warn shoppers before exposing them to products that contain PFAS chemicals when Proposition 65 takes effect on Jan. 1, 2025.

Many outdoor brands that have long used inputs containing PFAS are working to replace them ahead of the legislative deadlines. Earlier this year, Patagonia announced that it would phase out PFAS from its DWR finishes by 2025. REI, too, implemented new product standards for its more than 1,000 brand partners selling cookware and textile products like apparel, footwear, packs and bags, to take effect in fall 2024. Expedition-level outerwear makers will have until fall 2026 to comply with the retailer’s new Product Impact Standards. In July, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced plans to eliminate PFAS from its private labels.

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