Water- and stain-resistant products contain toxic plastics, study says. Here's what to do

A close-up of a water-resistant textile is shown.

(CNN)Many of the water-resistant and stain-proof home furnishings and apparel we purchase may contain toxic "forever" chemicals, called PFAS, that are linked to numerous health concerns, including liver and heart damage, immune disorders, cancer and hormone disruption, a new report found.

Independent laboratories commissioned by Toxic-Free Future, an environmental and health advocacy and research group, ran chemical tests on 60 products in three categories -- outdoor apparel, bedding, and tablecloths and napkins -- purchased from 10 major retailers.
    All of the products tested by Toxic-Free Future were imported from countries in Asia and sold in the United States and online, the report said.
      "We detected PFAS in a wide variety of products that included rain jackets, hiking pants, shirts, mattress pads, comforters, tablecloths and napkins," said coauthor Erika Schreder, science director for Toxic-Free Future.
      Man-made perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals, or PFAS, are made from a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms that do not degrade in the environment. These PFAS chemicals have been detected in the blood of 99% of Americans, according to a 2015 report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
        Thousands of varieties of PFAS are used in many of the products we purchase, including nonstick cookware, infection-resistant surgical gowns and drapes, mobile phones, semiconductors, commercial aircraft and low-emissions vehicles.
        The chemicals are also used to make carpeting, clothing, furniture and food packaging resistant to stains, water and grease damage. Once treated, the report said, textiles emit PFAS over the course of their lifetimes, escaping into the air and water in homes and communities.
        The report did have some good news for consumers, Schreder said.
        "We didn't find PFAS in any of the items that were not marketed as stain or water-resistant," Schreder said. "Consumers can just choose those to be safe."
        Raincoats, of course, are a different story, because consumers need them to be rain-repellent. But there is a rainbow here as well, Schreder added. To accomplish the goal of repelling water, a few companies are using tighter weaves, PFAS-free membranes between coat layers, and "paraffin wax, which is the only coating that has been publicly assessed and found to be safer."

        Banned PFAS still found

        Over the last decade, American chemical manufacturers have voluntarily stopped producing two heavily studied PFAS substances that have been linked to cancer, heart disease, immune and endocrine disorders, and more: the eight-carbon chain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).
        However, testing by Toxic-Free Future found 74% of the imported products still contained the older PFAS chemicals.
        "I was alarmed that the older, longer PFAS chains, touted by industry as having been phased out, were found in these imported products," said Melanie Benesh, a legislative and regulatory lawyer for the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to reforming chemical safety and agricultural laws. Neither Benesh nor EWG were involved with the report.
        A spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade organization, told CNN that importation could explain why "legacy chemistries that have been phased out were identified and could indicate a greater need for control over imported products."