There are thousands of chemical compounds that exist in our modern world and we find many of them in our everyday lives. The purpose of these chemicals is ultimately to make our lives easier and many have been deemed ‘safe’. We use them in our personal care products and around the house for cleaning, but they also are found in places you may least expect, and where they really do not belong - in kid’s clothing! Let’s not even start about the environmental impact of the textile industry.
Wastewater outfall near Sateri Fiber and Jiujiang Jinyuan Chemical Fiber viscose plants in Jiangxi, China
In this post we have compiled a list of a dozen dangerous chemicals that are commonly used in the textile industry. We will discuss the dangers they present to our families, cover some alternatives and explain why some kids' clothing items - those closer to skin and worn for long periods of time - should be as “clean” as possible.
The chemicals listed below vary in their use and are present in different stages of clothing production, such as manufacturing of textiles, dyeing, final packing for shipment. Some of these chemicals are released into waterways, some during incineration in the landfill and many end up in the final product and into our homes and onto our bodies.
Clothing manufacturers have a dirty secret and it's time we talk about the Dirty Dozen!
- BPA - Found in some fleece, BPA is an endocrine disruptor. It can imitate the body's hormones, and it can interfere with the production, secretion, transport, action, function, and elimination of natural hormones.
- Parabens - Parabens are believed to disrupt hormone function by mimicking oestrogen. Too much oestrogen can trigger an increase in breast cell division and growth of tumours, which is why paraben use has been linked to breast cancer and reproductive issues.
- Formaldehyde - Formaldehyde is used as a wrinkle-free solution on clothing that will protect it from wrinkles, shrinking and can cause allergic reactions, runny nose, headache, and dermatitis skin rashes
- Lead - Heavy metals such as lead are used in textile dyes and can accumulate in the body over time and are highly toxic, with irreversible effects including damage to the nervous system (lead and mercury) or the kidneys (cadmium).
- Phthalates - Phthalates are used in artificial leather, in PVC and in some dyes and as DEHP is a reprotoxic in mammals, as it can interfere with development of the testes in early life.
- Antimony (PET) - Used in the production of polyester, problems occur when the PET is finally incinerated at the landfill – because then the antimony is released as a gas into our environment (antimony trioxide). Antimony trioxide has been classified as a carcinogen.
- Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) - used to give clothing water and stain resistant properties, PFC’s are related to birth defects, linked to testicular cancer, kidney cancer and obesity
- Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) - NPEs (nonylphenol ethoxylates) are used as surfactants by textiles manufacturers and break down in the environment into nonylphenol (NP), it is one of the most notorious and prevalent bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals. Widely recognized for extreme aquatic toxicity to fish and wildlife, NPEs and NP may also threaten the health of the developing fetus and young children.
- Organotin compounds - as antifungal agents in a range of consumer products Organotin compounds can have serious effects on the immune, nervous, reproductive and endocrine system, and they may cause sensitization. They persist in the environment and can cause serious changes of whole ecosystems.
- Halogenated hydrocarbons - Used as a solvent for dry cleaning the long term exposure to many chlorinated hydrocarbons through inhalation can result in liver and kidney toxicity. Exposure of unprotected skin to the solvents used can cause defatting of the skin resulting in dermatitis.
- PBDEs - are used as a flame-retardant and are found in consumer goods such as electrical equipment, construction materials, coatings, textiles the critical or important effects considered in the human health assessment were neurodevelopmental effects , neurotoxicity, developmental neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, thyroid toxicity, immunotoxicity, liver toxicity, pancreas effects
- Phosphorus based flame retardants - Some animal studies have shown that long-term exposure to flame retardants can lead to cancer. Researchers are also beginning to look at the potential association between flame retardants and other health outcomes, including thyroid disruption and obesity, and the role they may be playing in human development.
Major retailers are guilty of using these chemicals!
One study conducted by Greenpeace found the prevalence of Phalates, Organotins, PFC’s and Antimony in many major clothing retailers, such as Nike, GAP, H&M and Uniqlo, to name a few! These chemicals are prevalent. They are dangerous, and they are in items from some very well known clothing manufacturers.
An alarming number of big retailers were tested positive for NPE’s, Phthalates, Organotins and Antimony
Flame retardants in Kids Pyjamas
Did you know that back in the 1970’s it was required by law that children’s sleepwear had to be treated with flame retardant? It was later found that these chemicals were carcinogenic, and the laws have since been changed. However, to this day, pyjamas for kids age 9 months through size 14 must be flame resistant or fit snugly. Hand-to-mouth behaviour increases the potential of children to be exposed to flame retardants. Researchers have found that children have higher concentrations of flame retardants in their bodies than adults.
Even today loose fitting kids pyjamas must be flame resistant
So what is the solution?
The solution is to understand and look for organic (GOTS certified) or at the very least OEKO-Tex standard 100 clothes.
A simple way to navigate the overwhelming amount of dangerous chemicals in the textile industry is to choose organic cotton! Untreated cotton or other natural fibre clothing is the safest choice. Organic fabrics and products meant for sensitive skin are less likely to have chemical finishes, or to have chemical fabric softeners used during processing. Look for GOTS - the highest standards and certification for organic textiles.
And while not all kids' clothing needs to be organic cotton, at Q for Quinn we believe that clothing being worn for long periods of time and closest to the body should be organic cotton whenever possible, such as baby onesies, kids underwear, socks and pyjamas. Children may be particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of these chemicals, because their brain and other organs are still developing. Organic cotton means your kids will be exposed to less chemicals and may avoid the negative health risks associated with these chemicals (eczema for starters!).
To avoid flame retardants, the solution is to opt for “snug fitting” pajamas. Please note those snug fitting cotton pajamas does not automatically mean they are free from chemicals, just that they are free from flame retardants (at least in most cases).
GOTS certified organic cotton is a safe, chemical free choice for baby and kids clothing
What does this mean at Q for Quinn?
As we look at the future of the children’s clothing market, we see a need for safer alternatives when buying kids clothes, not just socks. This does not only impact your young family, but ours too. Since launching our collection of socks in 2017 we have been doing extensive research on the chemicals prevalent in clothing. We want to design everyday basics -- items that will be worn close to skin that are also free from these harsh chemicals. We are excited to announce the addition of organic cotton baby onesies, organic boys and girls underwear and snug fitting organic cotton kids pyjamas to our product line. Stay tuned for the product launch this fall by signing up for our newsletter at the bottom of the page!