How Toxic Are Our Clothes?

Toxic Clothes

Why it’s important to address the secret chemicals in our clothing.

What you need to know about the hidden chemicals used in the garment business, from deadly anti-wrinkling compounds to dangerous colors.

We are all aware of how fashion has an influence on the environment, from the microplastics that are released when we wash our clothes to the millions of items that wind up in landfills. But what about the negative effects of the chemicals used to create our wardrobe essentials?

Wilson Oryema, a model and environmental activist, has created a new website called How Toxic Are My Clothes? in an effort to raise people’s awareness of the less well-known negative effects of fashion. He tells Vogue that “chemicals have become the standard in fashion.” Nobody is truly “thinking about” the risks associated with wearing clothing that contains chemicals.

The effect on the environment and public health
The good news is that there is no danger to the wearer from the toxins in our clothing. Greenpeace scientist Dr. Kevin Brigden said that wearing the clothes has “not really a direct influence.” “Most chemicals won’t be absorbed through skin.”

However, some substances, particularly dyes, might result in contact dermatitis or an allergic reaction of the skin. Washing garments before wearing them is commonly advised to remove any leftover chemicals from the fabric.

The worst part is that utilizing these dangerous chemicals when making apparel definitely puts workers at risk, especially outside of the EU and US. The “exposure during the manufacture of clothing is fairly considerable,” according to Greer.

Environmental effects are also substantial. Greer claims that “a lot of these chemicals are carried into rivers, streams, and the ocean.” She says, “[Chemicals] are released at [the site of manufacturing] in more harmful proportions and could be discharged into waterways and enter our food supply, by being taken up by aquatic life.

The numbers are startling. The textile sector generates 2.5 billion metric tonnes of wastewater annually in China, where 70% of rivers and lakes are polluted. A 2012 study predicts that the dyeing and finishing of textiles, which results in the release of 72 harmful chemicals into water systems, is responsible for up to 20% of all industrial water pollution.

The manufacture of these compounds also has an impact on the quality of the nearby air, water, and soil. The International Energy Agency estimates that the chemical and petrochemical sector as a whole is to blame for 7% of the world’s carbon emissions.

Mandatory action
There are safer substitutes for many of these dangerous compounds on the market. Some producers, says Brigden, “don’t utilise them at all.” There are other options available, thus there is generally no justification.

With so little information available on the chemicals in our clothes, it may be a minefield for consumers. Purchasing organic goods doesn’t guarantee that dangerous chemicals weren’t used. According to Greer, “dangerous chemicals can be used in the processing of organic fibres.” Instead, keep an eye out for the Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex® and bluesign® insignia, which attest that the garment is free of dangerous substances.

Consumers still have the ability to force brands to stop utilizing these drugs in the entire market. Greer continues, “Brands don’t usually act until they hear from their customers. Customers can request that brands disclose their policy about the continued use of harmful substances so that businesses are held accountable.

How is the usage of chemicals in fashion?
According to Dr. Linda Greer, senior global fellow at the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs, “Chemicals are added to clothing for numerous performance tasks, [including] softening them, wrinkle resistance, and shrink resistance.” There are valid arguments in favour of getting rid of the most hazardous chemicals used in the production of clothing; most of them have better substitutes, and there is a finite number that keeps coming up.

The compounds you should be aware of
Greenpeace revealed 11 dangerous chemical groups utilized throughout the garment sector when it introduced its Detox My Fashion campaign in 2011. These include per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS), which are used for water- and stain-resistant coatings, and flame retardants, which reduce the flammability of clothing. Both substances, in accordance with the United States Environmental Protection Agency, are thought to interfere with hormones and impair the immune system.

The list continues. Studies have revealed that heavy metals used in dyes are extremely hazardous and can harm the nervous system, while phthalates, which are used to soften plastic coatings, have been found to disrupt reproduction. The substance that causes the most worry is formaldehyde, which is used to keep clothing from wrinkling. The National Cancer Institute reports that some researchers have hypothesized that it may be related to specific cancers in addition to irritating the skin. Greer affirms, “Formaldehyde is a well-known problem chemical.”

Some of these chemicals are subject to restrictions, such as the US’s Toxic Substances Control Act and the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), which are applicable to clothing imported into the economic region (TSCA). The EU declared in 2018 that it would target the textile and apparel industry with stricter regulations. Although we would prefer stricter restrictions, the EU regulation is important, according to Brigden. “All dangerous compounds are not covered by current legislation.”

Article Courtesy: Vogue  

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