Dark Waters, the powerful new movie starring Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway, revolves around a class of substances known as “forever chemicals.” Also called by their technical names — perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — these chemicals pose serious risks to people, drinking water and the planet.
Prolonged exposure to and unsafe handling of PFCs and PFAS has been linked to severe human and environmental health impacts, including cancer, but they’re still used in a wide range of everyday items, from kitchen appliances to apparel.
Levi Strauss & Co. has fully banned these chemicals from our products. Today we’re breaking down what these substances are, why we made our decision and what else you should know.
PFCs and PFAS comprise a broad class of 5,000+ chemicals. They’re used by many industries in nearly every corner of the world for making industrial and commercial products waterproof, heat-resistant and more durable.
Alarmingly, PFCs and PFAS don’t break down in the environment; they linger in our soil and water and can travel long distances. Over time they can accumulate in humans and animals with the potential for major consequences.
These chemicals are ubiquitous and pervasive. They’re present in nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing, flame retardants and more. And, because they accumulate in the environment and waterways, they can affect drinking water and food crops. Firefighters face high levels of exposure because PFAS are used in firefighting foams. If you live near industrial waste, your water may be impacted.
Levi Strauss & Co. has banned the use of PFCs in our products and extended that ban to include all related PFAS, even though there are no comparable waterproof and stain-resistant alternatives.
“We banned the use of PFCs and PFAS for all Levi Strauss & Co. products because a growing body of science told us that it was the right thing to do for the environment — and the people who make and wear our products,” said Michael Kobori, our VP of Sustainability. “This decision was not taken lightly. We feel strongly that the health and safety of our consumers and the environment outweighs those performance benefits.”
These steps are in line with our broader approach to chemicals management.
- We were one of the first apparel companies to develop a Restricted Substances List (RSL), which establishes the chemicals we restrict or ban in our manufacturing processes.
- We were the first apparel company to set U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-level standards for the wastewater leaving our supplier factories.
- And, our Screened Chemistry program prevents hazardous chemicals from ever entering the supply chain. This work continues to evolve today.
Dark Waters puts a face on the dangers of using forever chemicals. The film is inspired by the true story of Rob Billott, a corporate defense attorney who sued one of the world’s largest chemical companies for knowingly discharging PFCs and PFAS from its West Virginia plant, subjecting local communities and the surrounding environment to hazardous pollution. Billott, portrayed by Ruffalo, risked his career and family to stand up for people whose health and wellbeing were — and continue to be — threatened.
“This is an important story to tell now because the word says it all — forever chemicals aren’t going away,” said Robert Kessel, who leads narrative film at Participant, the production company behind Dark Waters and other movies (like Spotlight and An Inconvenient Truth) that have inspired social change. “Dark Waters is like throwing a match on kindling. We hope that this conversation accelerates change on the issues and starts a national discussion. Laws need to catch up with chemistry.”
Follow the latest news on PFCs and PFAS and familiarize yourself with consumer guides from organizations like The Environmental Working Group and Fight Forever Chemicals that can help you protect yourself and your community. Because the products we buy — and don’t buy — can make a big difference.