“We can break the mountains apart; we can drain the rivers and flood the valleys. We can turn the most luxuriant forests into throw-away paper products. We can tear apart the great grass cover of the western plains and pour toxic chemicals into the soil and pesticides onto the fields until the soil is dead and blows away in the wind. We can pollute the air with acids, the rivers with sewage, the seas with oil – all this in a kind of intoxication with our power for devastation at an order of magnitude beyond all reckoning” Thomas Berry
Wear Clothes Not Chemicals
Let’s be practical here. In today’s world, it is not possible to stay away from chemicals or to say no to chemicals in all form or shape. We do not want to go back to caves to avoid chemicals. Chemicals are literally everywhere around us. They are in the food we eat, products we use, clothes we wear, grass we walk on, things we touch and so on. With the progress science has made and things humans have created in the lab we are living in the industrialized world. We love the progress being made and it is undoubtedly the best time in the human history we are living.
But it has come at a cost. Cost which we have to pay for our own growth. Chemicals we created to make products cheaper and turned our back on nature.
So are we better off without the chemicals? Of course we are better of without harmful chemicals. But still we cannot avoid them. So what do we do?
We restrict them. We keep ourselves informed and educated. We need to know what chemicals are life threatening for us and what products we should avoid.
First, we don’t just absorb synthetic chemicals one time during the average day, we are exposed to hundreds of chemicals as result of using a wide array of consumer products on our skin that contain synthetic ingredients, particularly cosmetics and personal care products. Many of these same chemicals are used in synthetic clothing. Even natural fiber clothes are topped up with dangerous chemicals. That means we absorb tiny amounts of chemicals repeatedly from multiple sources until they add up and reach a tipping point within us that could be harmful.
Let us talk about chemicals in clothes now. Do you know there are chemicals in the clothes you are wearing right now? I know many people who are well informed in their respective trades but they have no idea about heavy use of chemicals in clothing industry.
I visited a “clean room” for Nano Fabrication lab at State College, Penn State University campus couple of years back and spoke to a PhD research scholar. While giving me a trip around the lab, he mentioned about a dangerous chemical they have to use and how high precaution and various safety measures they take while handling. They go an extra mile by wearing safety suits and masks to make sure of no contact or inhalation takes places. In the break the topic changed to clothes and incidentally he was wearing a burnt-out t-shirt. I mentioned about the chemicals used in clothing industry and that the shirt he was wearing goes through a chemical process to create the burn out effect. His reaction was; are their chemicals in clothes too? He was shocked to hear “chemical clothes” story.
Patty and Leigh Anne are two sisters on a mission and expose all about the toxic chemicals (oecotextiles.com) used by textile industry. Their findings are mind boggling and they state “One thing is for sure industry uses a lot of chemicals. During manufacturing it takes from 10% to 100% of the weight of the fabric in chemicals to produce that fabric. The final fabric, if made of 100% cotton or linen, contains about 27%, by weight, chemicals and many of these chemicals are simply not benign”.
All dyed fabrics goes through “wet processing” which means applying a chemical action to the textile. It is a series of chemical applications where fabric is soaked and infused with chemicals, may times. The kind of chemicals vary as per the requirement of the process.
Below is a list of chemicals used under various process of textile dyeing and finishing:
- Process of cleaning natural fibers to improve easy care properties uses complexing agents, surfactants (lowers surface tension of water for easy removal of grease and oil), wetting agents (quickens the penetration of finishing liquors), sequestering agents, dispersing agents, emulsifiers.
- Chemicals such as acids, bases and salts: synthetic dyes, dye-protective agents, fixing agents, leveling agents, pH regulators, carriers, UV absorbers.
The 2010 AATCC (American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists) lists 2,000 chemical specialties in over 100 categories offered for sale by about 66 companies. This does not include synthetic dyes.
Chemicals companies sell many branded products, made of unknown components, as they are proprietary. Many chemicals are necessary to achieve certain effects, such as Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) for fire retardants, formaldehyde resins for crease resistance or Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA’s) for stain protection. The chemicals used to create these effects are proven to to cause cancers or genetic mutations in mammals (humans included).
Some of those dangerous chemicals are Alkylphenolethoxylates (APEOs), Pentachlorophenols (PCP), Toluene, Dichloromethane (DCM), Formaldehyde, Phthalates, Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE’s), Perfluorooctane sulfonates (PFOS). Heavy metals – copper, cadmium, lead, antimony, mercury among others.
We see those fancy labels and tags on the garments highlighting stain resistance, wrinkle resistance, waterproofing, perspiration-proof, moth-proof, mildew resistance. Many chemicals used to get some of these finishes are linked to leukemia and lung cancer and contribute to allergies, skin irritation, insomnia, skin rashes, headaches, nausea and eye and nose irritation.
The clothes we bring in our homes with a thought of “looking good”, makes our skin feel and absorb toxic.
Like food labels, we need to learn to read clothes labels too.
For further in depth knowledge on harmful chemicals in our clothes, keep reading my articles.
- Environmental Hazards of the Textile Industry, Hazardous Substances Research Centers, South and Southwest Outreach Program, US EPA funded consortium, June 2006
- Lacasse and Baumann, Textile Chemicals: Environmental Data and Facts; German Environmental Protection Agency, Springer, New York, 2004, page 609.
- W D Schindler (2004), P J Hauser, Chemical Finishing of Textiles, Woodhead Publishing
- Images courtesy Pixabay.com