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California Bans Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ Used by Many Brands

Close-up of a clothes rack displaying yellow and black raincoats.
PFAS are widely used in waterproof and stain-repellent coatings (shutterstock)

The new law comes into effect in January 2025 and prohibits the manufacture, sale or distribution of new textiles and apparel products containing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a group of chemicals commonly used to make garments waterproof or stain-resistant. Apparel makers will be required to use “the least toxic alternative,” and procure a certificate of compliance from manufacturers.

It was signed into law Thursday, per an announcement on the website of state Governor Gavin Newsom.

PFAS have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they do not break down naturally and accumulate in the human body when absorbed, studies show. Exposure can cause serious health issues such as increased cholesterol, cancer and risks to reproductive health and foetal development, according to numerous studies.

Many brands have committed to stop using the chemicals in their products, though few have successfully done so. The industry is still working to find alternatives with the same properties, particularly for high-performance fabrics. California’s new law includes an extension that gives apparel designed for extreme conditions, like watersports and mountaineering, until 2028 to become PFAS-free.

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The Californian law is one of multiple regulatory initiatives taking aim at the chemical group. In New York, similar moves to ban PFAS by late 2023 awaits approval by Gov. Kathy Hochul. In the European Union, countries including Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Denmark are currently working on sweeping proposals to restrict PFAS in all uses, including textiles.

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