A $7 trillion/year clothing industry is manufactured using an astounding 8,000 synthetic chemicals. Nowadays clothes also contain toxins like formaldehyde, brominated flame retardants, and perfluorinated chemicals (Teflon) to provide “non-iron” and “non-wrinkle” qualities. Insecticides are even applied in the name of good health.
For half a century, skin and chemicals have been interacting and creating problems like infertility, respiratory diseases, contact dermatitis, and cancer.
The more synthetic clothing you wear, the greater your risk of absorbing toxic chemicals that harm your health. Skin is the largest body organ and when toxins are absorbed through your skin, they bypass your liver, the organ responsible for removing toxins. You also may not realize that your skin keeps you healthy by venting up to a pound of toxins per day.
Petrochemical fibers restrict and suffocate your skin shutting down toxic release. Meanwhile, they contribute to your total toxic burden and may become the “tipping point” for triggering the onset of disease.
Two contributing factors
- Toxic buildup in your body
- Multiple chemicals that interact together to create even worse problems than the individual chemicals by themselves.
Skin rashes, nausea, fatigue, burning, itching, headaches, and difficulty breathing are all associated with chemical sensitivity. If you have mysterious health symptoms that you can’t seem to get control over, it’s worth checking out whether your clothes could be the problem.
No parent would want toxic materials in their children’s clothing. Yet according to a new Greenpeace study, a range of hazardous chemicals is being used in the production of kids’ wear from top fashion brands.
A frequent question about producing toxin-free clothing is whether it is economically feasible for textile companies to replace hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives. The answer is resoundingly yes; doing so is essential if companies want to keep their business sustainable
Entire groups of toxic chemicals, previously ubiquitous in the supply chain, have been phased out by such companies within a short period of time – for example, biodegradable biopolymer and fluorocarbon-free water repellent materials are used as safer alternatives. More importantly, these companies have created incentives for “upstream” players in the textile supply chain, those who provide dyes and detergents, to weigh-in and start vying for a share in the market for safer alternatives.
High-end British brand Burberry was listed as the industry leader in the 2016 Down Jones Sustainability index in the ‘Textiles, Apparel & Luxury Goods’ sector; in addition they are also listed in the FTSE4Good Index and the MSCI Global Sustainability Index series, they are members of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). This opens a new chapter in the story of toxic-free fashion and raises the bar for the luxury sector. Brands such as Gucci, Versace and Louis Vuitton now risk getting left behind.
Early birds have an advantage. Across the globe regulations are kicking in that will force the textile industry to shift to toxin-free mode. More stringent regulation will be the reason that brands will eventually have to change to safer alternatives.
In 2013, the textile industry was listed for the first time under China’s national five-year plan for prevention and control of environmental risk of chemicals as a “key industry for regulatory control”. The signal sent by regulators in the worlds largest textile-producing country is very clear: no more toxic clothing in our backyard.
The central government of China is also to release a blacklist of toxic chemicals that will be subject to strict regulatory control. Some of them are major chemicals used by the textile industry.
What about the USA? Here are the requirements for fabrics – mostly applying to children:
- Section 101(a) of the CPSIA restricts children’s products, including children’s apparel and sleepwear, to a lead content limit of 100 parts per million (ppm). In addition, the use of paint or similar surface coating on children’s apparel and sleepwear must not exceed a lead content limit of 90 ppm. That compares to the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) requirement that the lead content be 2 ppm.
- Section 108 of CPSIA states that children’s toys and child care articles cannot contain more that 0.1% of six phthalates – DEHP, DBP, BBP limits are applicable to both toys and child care items while DINP, DIDP, and DnOP limits are applicable only to toys that can be placed in the mouth and are intended for children 3 and younger. Although children’s clothing does not need to be certified to this requirement, children’s sleepwear or bibs (child care article) intended for children age 3 years or younger and any children’s textile product that is intended for use in play (toy) must be certified to the phthalates requirements. In comparison to GOTS, all phthalates are prohibited.
- In July 2011, CPSC approved a federal safety rule for drawstrings in children’s upper outerwear. Children’s upper outerwear in sizes 2T-16 must be in conformance with ASTM F1816-97, Standard Safety Specification for Drawstrings on Children’s Upper Outerwear, approved June 10, 1997, published August 1998 (incorporated by reference in 16 CFR 1120.3 (b), or such outerwear will be considered a substantial product hazard.
- Textiles used in apparel must meet class 1 or 2 flammability requirements. Children’s sleepwear must be flame resistant and self-extinguish when exposed to a small ignition source. The rules cover all children’s sleepwear between size 9 months and size 14. The fabric, seams, trim, and garments must pass certain flammability tests or the garment must be tight-fitting as defined by specified dimensions. ( See our blog post on flame retardants, published in May, 2013)
What does this mean? It means that the United States has basically no protection for consumers in terms of textiles.
HERE’S WHAT PARENTS CAN DO:
- Just say no to sandals, shoes, boots or raingear made entirely or predominantly from rubber- or plastic-like materials. Keep an eye out when shopping for shoes treated with anti-microbial chemicals.
- Rid wardrobes of garments screen printed with plastisol, the thick, rubbery material used to create slightly raised designs and logos.
- Don’t purchase clothing promising stain-resistant, waterproof, or odor-fighting performance, technologies which utilize toxic chemicals.
- Steer clear of polyester, which frequently contains traces of antimony.
- Stick to natural fiber clothing, preferably organic.
- Select clothing manufactured in the U.S. and Europe where regulations are generally stricter.
- Don’t add insult to injury. Wash clothing in plant-based detergent without synthetic fragrance, which can contain hormone disrupting chemicals. And skip the fragrant dryer sheets.
The Organic Trade Association estimates that one non-organic cotton T-shirt uses one-third pound of pesticides and fertilizers. Cotton production uses one-fourth of all the world’s fertilizers. It’s another good reason to choose organic cotton to add to the ones above.
“Killer Clothes” written by Anna Maria Clement, PhD, NMD, LN and Brian R. Clement, PhD, NMD, LN