Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
adidas Addresses Allegations of Toxic World Cup Gear; Greenpeace Shoots Back

Last week, Greenpeace Germany released a report indicting adidas, Nike and Puma for producing gear for the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil that contains hazardous chemicals. The watchdog group unveiled the results after testing 33 items including boots, goalkeeper gloves and the official “Brazuca” ball, for a range of substances.

Greenpeace Germany said independent labs found chemicals including perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), nonylphenolethoxylates (NPEs), phthalates and dimethylformamide (DMF) in products from all three companies purchased across three continents; adidas’ “Predator” boots, for example, were found to contain PFCs at 14 times the level specified by the company’s restriction limits. PFCs are known to leach into the environment or get into the food chain; some of them potentially cause cancer, disrupt the hormonal system or can be toxic to reproduction.

17 out of 21 pairs of boots and half of the goalkeeper’s gloves tested were found to contain ionic PFCs such as PFOA, and Greenpeace says a pair of adidas “Predator” gloves also contained levels of the substance in excess of the brand’s own limits. The “Brazuca” official World Cup ball, along with two-thirds of boots and half of the gloves, were found to contain NPEs, a substance that, when released into the environment, degrades to nonylphenol, known to be toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms.

Phthalates and dimethylformamide (DMF) were detected in all 21 boots. DMF — used as a solvent in boot manufacturing — is classified as toxic to reproduction and can be harmful when in contact with skin.

“Despite their Detox commitments, Nike and adidas are failing to tackle their toxic addiction. On behalf of the players, the fans and the local communities affected by toxic-water pollution we urge them to come clean by publicly disclosing the release of all hazardous chemicals and publishing a precise PFC phase-out plan,” says Manfred Santen, Detox Campaigner for Greenpeace Germany.

Just after the report’s release, Greenpeace launched the #detoxwave social media campaign, which specifically targets adidas and calls for the brand’s CEO, Herbert Hainer, to “detox football.”

In response to the allegations, a representative from adidas told Sustainable Brands: "None of the tested products pose any health risk to consumers; all of the published results and concentrations fully meet all legal requirements. To give you one example: The European guideline for NPE is 1,000 ppm (parts per million) — the value that was found in the adidas brazuca ball — is 50 times lower than this guideline. Therefore, brazuca — just like all other adidas products tested — is fulfilling all legal criteria. The result underlines our continued commitment to ensure this best practice approach in all of our products.

"We clearly reject Greenpeace’s attempt in making our consumers believe that our products are unsafe. We call on Greenpeace to share details of their testing methodology with us as we would like to verify the implied results through independent institutes. None of the implied test results suggest any deliberate use of these components in our materials."

After receiving adidas’ remarks, we reached out to Greenpeace for further comment, of which they had several:

“Greenpeace rejects Adidas’ attempts to demonstrate the ‘safe’ use of hazardous chemicals to its customers,” Santen said in an email. “Given the brand’s massive production scale, the use of persistent substances like PFCs, even at low levels, contributes to their continued build-up in our environment. By hiding behind legal requirements, the minimum Adidas should adhere to, the brand is refusing to show leadership and tackle an urgent issue that affects us all: toxic water pollution.

“Three years ago Adidas signed a detox commitment, a public pledge to bring about zero discharge of hazardous chemicals in its products and supply chain,” Santen continued. “Despite the brand’s paper promises, Greenpeace's latest investigations, done by independent and accredited labs, are indicating the intentional use of known hazardous substances like PFCs in World Cup products. Greenpeace shared all the results and the testing methodology with Adidas and the public. The product tests show that Adidas has lost its way. It breaches its own regulations, set for customer safety, fails to lay out clear timelines for elimination and refuses to act with the same transparency as other Detox committed brands.

“The elimination of these chemicals cannot be done overnight, but by following a clear pathway and setting key milestones, including a phase-out date for the dangerous PFCs and full supply chain transparency. It is not only achievable but necessary.

“Greenpeace calls on Adidas to act with the same level of ambition it promotes in its World Cup advertising and help us tackle the global water crisis. This toxic scandal has been going on for long enough, we can´t afford for it to go into extra time,” Santen said.

When Greenpeace shines its light on a brand, it can often create a case of ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ Whichever party’s claims are valid, it remains to be seen how long adidas will remain in the penalty box.

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