Eight Greenpeace teams have returned from expeditions on three continents carrying water and snow samples from remote areas for laboratory testing. The tests will show just how far contamination from PFCs – persistent and hazardous chemicals used to make outdoor gear waterproof – has spread.
Some of the expeditions were very challenging, with extreme weather conditions and hundreds of metres to climb. Others were pleasant hikes with stunning landscapes and wildlife.
In China, we took samples from a snow peak above 5,100 metres. The expedition team woke at dawn to climb 1,000 metres, gather samples and return to the base-camp before sunset.
In Chile’s Torres del Paine national park, the team faced temperatures of minus 13 Celsius and winds of over 50 kilometres per hour as they trekked 64 kilometres over snow and ice to collect samples at the base of the mountains.
“It felt like a thousand needles when I was taking samples. I couldn’t feel my fingers!” says Leonel Mingo, a Greenpeace Detox campaigner who took part in the Chile expedition.
“We completed the sampling successfully but then we had to get out quickly because a snowstorm was approaching fast and it was totally dark. We began a six-hour descent from the mountain in extreme weather in the middle of the night. We could not break to rest because we risked freezing every time we stopped,” he adds.
In southern Siberia, we visited the Golden Mountains of Altai, a UNESCO World Heritage site that ranges from taiga, or snowforests, to alpine meadows, glacial zones and high mountain tundra.
“We didn’t meet the bear, but it was quite close judging by the footprints on the track,” says Nina Lesikhina, a Toxics campaigner with the Russian expedition team.
“There were violets, iris, cedar and larch everywhere. And as we crossed the pass between Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan, we saw Red Book snow leopards and black vultures,” she adds.
Everywhere we were welcomed by local people keen to know more about our investigation, and about the possible presence of toxic chemicals. In the Alps, for example, the Swiss National Park gave the team special permission to sample the pristine lakes of Macun and provided a guide to support the work.
“It’s breathtaking to see such extraordinary and diverse landscapes,” said Mirjam Kopp, a project leader with the Detox team. “But it deeply concerns me to think that persistent hazardous chemicals like PFCs have probably already reached these pristine areas.”
The snow and lake water samples we collected are now being analysed for PFCs in a dedicated laboratory. Stay tuned to find out the results of our investigation and join us to detox the great outdoors!
Gabriele Salari leads communications for the Detox Outdoor project with Greenpeace Italy.
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