Detox Your Closet!

We stopped cleaning our houses with lemon water and vinegar like our mothers did, and we clean with chemicals. We’re breathing chemicals, and then everyone wonders why cancer is the biggest killer – Suzanne Somers

In the book “Tox-Sick”, Suzanne Somers write about the toxins in our body, diseases caused by toxins and the doctors who can help. Author Somers identifies six areas of toxic that are listed below:

  • Plastic and other Chemicals
  • The low-fat food movement and other processed, sugar-filled foods
  • Toxic mold
  • The overuse of pills
  • GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)
  • EMFs (Electric and Magnetic fields) and Cell Phones

Chemicals in textile and clothing falls in first category.

Suzanne Somers mentions her personal life events in the book to explain how deadly toxins are. The goal to write “Tox-Sick” is to identify the toxic threats, one by one, and dismantle them.

I have similar goal, “To reach as many people as possible, and let them know about the toxins in the clothes they wear”.

Consumers should know that they have a choice: to wear toxins or to wear healthy. I want to share information on textile and clothing industry and the facts underlying “Resistance”, “Retardant”, and “Repellent”. The various chemicals that are applied on our clothes under the names of various finishes. To name a few: flame resistance, stain resistance, bug repellent, water repellent, crease resistant, wrinkle resistant, mosquito repellent, soil resistance, light resistance, antimicrobial finish, moth proof, temperature regulating finish, moisture management, easy care finish and list goes on.

Chemical finishes are often applied to a garment to give it various properties by adding a mixture of potentially harmful chemicals. Most of the chemicals used for these finishes have proven to have negative effects on human health. Dyes and garment finishes are known to result in an array of health problems such as skin rashes, headache, trouble concentrating, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, dizziness, difficulty breathing, irregular heart beat and even seizures. Symptoms in children can include red cheeks and ears, dark circles under the eyes, hyperactivity and behavior or learning problems.

Many of the hazardous chemicals once used by the textile and clothing industry have been banned, in particular chemicals found as residues in clothes that have been proven to cause cancer, such as benzidine, linked to “exceptionally elevated risks” of bladder cancer (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2002), but other hazardous chemicals used commonly in the textile industry such as lead, nickel, chromium IV, aryl amines and phthalates still continue to be widely used, (Greenpeace, 2010). The following list is not exhaustive, but highlights some of the worst offenders:

Anti-wrinkle finishes, which are used on a broad range of clothing uses a resin that releases formaldehyde, the chemical that is usually associated with embalming fluids. Wrinkle-resistant finishes are used to keep the fabric’s fibers in place after a spin in the washing machine and often serve as a preservative and to prevent mildew while clothes and other items transit from factory to store.

Formaldehyde is a colorless gas with a pungent, suffocating odor. It is an irritant on inhalation, direct contact with skin or eyes and on ingestion. Formaldehyde can cause a skin condition called contact dermatitis, an allergic reaction that causes itching, redness and blisters, but more importantly, it is also classified as a carcinogenic hazard. Despite this, the United States does not regulate formaldehyde levels in clothing and government agencies do not require manufacturers to disclose the use of the chemical on labels. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a non-regulatory body, has classified formaldehyde as probably carcinogenic to humans, and in EU countries formaldehyde is classified per the Dangerous Substances Directive as a category 3 (C3), which is the weakest class of carcinogenic hazard, (Formaldehyde Working Group, 1999).

Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are also often added to textiles and clothing, so that in the event of a fire, they burn more slowly. BFRs have been found to be persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) and have endocrine-disrupting properties, particularly causing thyroid imbalances. Negative health impacts have been shown on the liver, the brain and the nervous system when tested on animals, (Ashton and Salter Green, 2006: 35). Often these chemicals are impregnated into products we have close, long lasting contact with.

Perfluorinates (PFOs) are the group of chemicals used to water-proof clothing. They are found in outdoor clothing, such as ski wear and “breathable” fabrics, as well as crease resistant clothing. These chemicals are very persistent, sometimes being referred to as “eternal” compounds, because they do not degrade. Exposure to PFOs such as Perfluooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluooctanoic acid (PFOA) may cause birth defects, adversely affect the immune system and disrupt thyroid function. The US Environmental Protection Agency considers both PFOS and PFOA to be carcinogenic and occupational exposure has been linked with increased occurrence of bladder cancer, (Ashton and Salter Green, 2006: 39).

Approximately 90% of all EU dry cleaners use the solvent perchloroethylene (PERC) in their dry-cleaning process. PERC has been known to cause serious environmental and health impacts, as it is toxic to the liver and the central nervous system, can accumulate in the body and is probably carcinogenic to humans. Studies have shown that the compound induces leukemia in rats and increases risk for esophageal cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and cervical cancer. It has been shown to cause liver tumors in mice and kidney tumors in male rats, (Greenpeace, 2005). PERC is very persistent in ground water and soil, as well as toxic to the aquatic environment and strangely, everything perchloroethylene comes into contact with at the dry cleaners must be handled as ‘hazardous waste’ except the dry-cleaned clothes we wear! Thus, dry cleaning operations using PERC are regulated under the EU VOC Directive, which requires that VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) that are carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction should be replaced, and many EU countries have now set national regulations.

Sandblasting is another fabric finish, it is used to create a faded or worn out or bleached look on denim. The technique uses an abrasive material, usually sand, which is blasted against the fabric under high pressure. The process often uses natural sand which contains silica and can cause silicosis, as the crystalline silica dust particles can be easily inhaled, penetrating the pulmonary alveoli and the connective tissue, which gradually impairs lung capacity and the ability to oxygenate the blood. Symptoms include shortness of breath, and as the disease develops, it becomes increasingly difficult to breathe; this puts strain on the heart and eventually leads to death.

A report undertaken by the NGO Fair Trade Center, and co-funded by the Clean Clothes Campaign, indicates that cases of silicosis are on the increase, with 50 deaths registered in Turkey and an estimated 5000 workers who have developed silicosis prior to the banning of the practice by the Turkish government in March 2009. Since the ban, the sandblasting industry has moved to other countries, such as China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and parts of Northern Africa. Sandblasters within the industry are most likely to suffer from silicosis, however residues of silica can also be found on the finished products.

Bleaching makes fabric white and usually involves the use of chlorine. The primary environmental concern with chlorine-treated textiles is the industrial wastewater from chlorination facilities. Some chemicals like dioxins and furans are created unintentionally by industrial processes using chlorine. Dioxins and furans are PBTs, they are a group of chemically-related compounds that are persistent environmental pollutants; they are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.

Scientists estimate that there are many other unintentionally created by-products which are generated by industrial processes which have not yet been  “discovered”, since no tests have yet been developed that would fully identify or describe these by-products.

Dyeing gives a textile its color; dyes consist of soluble colored compounds suspended in a medium. To dye a fiber is to affix the molecules of the dyes as solidly to the surface as possible through a chemical reaction (chemical absorption), which varies depending on the pairing of dye and fiber.

Both natural and man-made dyes can be used for dyeing textiles, along with other processing chemicals that must be washed out after dyeing, however the dyeing process uses a lot of water, energy and chemicals. On average, a t-shirt that weighs 200 grams needs 16-20 liters of water to dye it and every year the global textile industry discharges as much as 40,000-50,000 tons of dye into rivers and streams.

Twentieth century fibers such as nylon and polyester were difficult to dye with natural dyes and so gradually the use of natural dyes for textiles became a niche market, being replaced with synthetic dyes. Synthetic dyes are based on a chemical composition. Some of these dyes are acid (anionic) dyes, basic (cationic) dyes, neutral premetallized dyes, sulfur dyes, vat dyes, reactive dyes, or pigment dyes. There are also many different methods of dyeing for different types of fiber and at different stages of the textile production process. These methods include direct dyeing and yarn dyeing (the most widely used methods); stock dyeing; top dyeing; piece dyeing; solution pigmenting or dope dyeing or garment dyeing.

Some azo-based dyes, per the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, can under certain conditions, break and produce two new chemical substances called aromatic amines, which contain metallic elements, and as a garment is worn these chemicals, which are proven to be carcinogenic can be absorbed through the skin. Aromatic azo compounds are usually stable and have vivid colors such as red, orange, and yellow. Until very recently, these chemicals were widely used.

If above is the case than what should be wear?

Organic cotton textiles are kinder, cleaner and better. Soil Association, UK’s leading food and farming charity and organic certification body, is a founding member of GOTS, highlights several reasons why organic textiles are better:

  • Organic fibers are grown without using harmful pesticides or genetically modified organisms so promote a healthier farm and environment.
  • Soil Association and GOTS do not allow harmful manufacturing chemicals in organic textile production, so it’s better for wildlife and workers.
  • Social conditions are high in organic textile factories, and organic cotton production can help farmers find a way out of poverty.
  • Animal welfare is at the heart of organic systems, so is better for animals growing our fibers.
  • Organic textiles manufactured under Soil Association and GOTS approved factories does not contain allergenic, carcinogenic or toxic chemicals.

Be safe and wear smart!

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Killer Clothes written by Anna Maria Clement, PhD, NMD, LN and Brian R. Clement, PhD, NMD, LN
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