New Park Service Uniforms Fly by the Seat of Their Pants
No Information on Anti-Microbial or Insect Repellant Garment Specifications
Washington, DC — Trump administration plans to buy new uniforms infused with chemicals for national park and other eco-employees are half-baked, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Although the contract has been let, which chemicals will be used, how they will be applied, and what side-effects they bring all remain a mystery.
More than 90,000 people die annually in the U.S. from infections resistant to antibiotics. The Food & Drug Administration, the American Medical Association, and other health authorities, have linked anti-microbial products with the spread of drug-resistant “super bug” diseases.
“We are concerned that new uniforms for green agency employees may have adverse environmental effects and put them and their families at greater risk for developing diseases resistant to conventional medicines,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, also pointing to a growing body of evidence that antimicrobial garments are ineffective for their stated purpose. “It makes no sense to have one federal agency – the FDA – moving to limit these products, while another one is blithely spreading them.”
With much fanfare this October, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced a new contract to provide new uniforms, coats, vests and other apparel for approximately 35,000 employees working within seven Interior agencies and the Army Corps of Engineers. In a statement released to the media, a spokesperson for the National Park Service (NPS), which is handling the procurement, stated that:
“items will be made with performance oriented fabrics that are moisture wicking, breathable, stretchable, and anti-microbial.”
The statement went on to say that among other “improved characteristics” clothing items would provide “insect protection either as a function of garment weave or via applied treatments.” Specifications posted on the FedBizOpps.Gov website list a number of outerwear items (pullovers, vests, parkas, etc.) with specifications that they be “anti-microbial/odor resistant.”
PEER reached out to the company that is the current supplier and which also won the new uniform contract bid, VF Imagewear, to ask what anti-microbial materials it would use. A company representative responded by email that it does not make anti-microbial uniforms and admitted “I’m not sure we know” what chemicals will be used. Decisions are slated to be made later this month.
Yet, a four-part PEER Freedom of Information Act request seeking 1) who ordered this specification and why, plus what chemicals would be used, how and to what effect (items 2 – 4) yielded this response:
“A search of the files for the National Park Service’s (NPS) uniform program coordinator returned no responsive records. Regarding item 1 of your request, the specifications were updated to request these technologies after an ‘Industry Day’ in July 2015 during which vendors brought new technologies to our attention that could benefit our employees. Regarding items 2 – 4 of your request, because the contract was only recently awarded the NPS has not seen or approved any garments including the anti-microbial and/or insect resistant garments, we therefore have no records responsive to these items.”
“No one has apparently even asked whether environmentally sensitive federal lands and waters will be subjected to doses of anti-microbial chemicals, insecticides, and other commercial poisons every time these treated garments are washed,” added Bennett, noting that anti-microbial chemicals are bio-accumulating, meaning that concentrations will only go up the food chain. “This information vacuum shows incredibly sloppy Park Service decisionmaking that is not just off-the-cuff but off-the-wall.”
See anti-microbial adverse side-effects
Note recent FDA attempts to limit anti-microbial use
Trace antimicrobial chemical loss after clothes washing
Examine study of antimicrobial garment ineffectiveness