Wednesday, February 12, 2014

List of Hazardous Chemicals Lurking in Your Clothes

Greenpeace has significantly raised the profile of toxins in our clothing, they have also produced studies which detail the pervasiveness of these chemicals in our clothes. It is important to note that clothes at every price range, from bargain brands to high end retailers all contained these toxins. Here is a list of six hazardous chemicals that are commonly found in many clothing items that are widely available around the world.


These are esters of phthalic acid, typically added to plastics to increase flexibility and durability. The highest amounts were found in plastisol printings including t-shirts with images. Phthalates are known to be endocrine disrupters. This means phthalates can disrupt hormone levels in animals, which could disrupt fertility, cause birth defects or even contribute to breast cancer among humans. Although phthalates biodegrade in the environment, organisms that see prolonged exposure absorb it into their system.

Nonylphenol ethoxylates or nonylphenols (NPEs)

These chemicals are used to wash clothing, for example after dying. These can also disrupt hormones – but unlike phthalates, NPEs persist in the environment, and can accumulate in the tissues of a living organism. If discharged into the water, nonylphenol is highly toxic to aquatic creatures.

Per- and poly-fluorinated chemicals (PFCs)

Textiles are treated with PFCs to make them water-repellent. PFCs are thus mainly found in outerwear, such as rain jackets and shoes, although Greenpeace also found PFCs in Adidas swimwear. PFCs are also bioaccumulative and persistent, and have spread around the world. It's been found in the livers of polar bears and penguins – so it spreads to both the Arctic and the Antarctic. Although not all the environmental consequences are known, ionic PFCs like PFOS and PFOA have been linked with cancer and kidney disease.


This is a compound that can include tin, organotin chemicals are used as a biocide largely in cotton clothing. The anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties prevent textiles from being damaged during the long journey from the countries of production to the countries of sale, and prevent odor if a wearer were to sweat.


This element is used as a catalyst in the making of polyester. In higher concentrations, it can act like arsenic.  It is released into the environment where it can accumulate.


These chemicals are poisonous for fish in seas and rivers a fact that has been known about for 30 years. APEs, can be replaced by other chemicals which are non-toxic. German chemical companies voluntarily stopped using them in textile cleaning back in 1986. Now, APEs usage across the EU is strictly regulated. Since 2005, these chemicals can only be used when they no longer end up in sewage systems. But, such strict regulations do not exist yet worldwide. APEs are a threat to seamstresses in countries where most of the production takes place

© 2014, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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