hshawcross

Clothes: dying to be fashionable?

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The fibres used to make textile products can be synthetic (such as acrylic, nylon and lycra) or natural (such as cellulose or protein). To achieve certain desirable fibre properties, various additives are used during manufacture, such as heat or light stabilizers, flame retardants and delustrants (used to reduce shininess). Additionally,  pigments and dyes are also used to colour the fibers. All of these chemicals are regularly added to both synthetic and natural fibres.

 

Some of the toxic chemicals contained within clothing include:[1]

  • Perfluorinated compounds
  • Phthalates
  • Heavy metals
  • Flame retardants
  • Isocyanates
  • Formaldehyde
  • Azo dyes
  • Urea
  • Various glycols
  • Aliphatic hydrocarbons

Many of these substances have been linked to numerous health concerns. Formaldehyde and azo dyes, for example, have been linked to increases in certain cancers in humans, [2] [3] whereas phthalate exposure during pregnancy has been shown to have lifelong effects on offspring hormone levels in animal models.[4] The mutagenic effects of azo dyes are so well documented that the EU has banned the use of 22 dyes of this type in textile manufacture.[5]

When present in textiles, heavy metals can pose a potential danger to human health. One study found that there were high levels of chromium in polyamide-based dark clothes, high antimony concentrations in polyester-based clothes, and high levels of copper in certain green cotton fabrics.[6] Although most of the levels were still below what is deemed “safe and acceptable” according to international standards, antimony was present at levels 10% higher than the specified safety level for dermal contact with clothes.[6] Heavy metals like these have been linked to numerous health issues. Chromium, for example, is a carcinogen that is also found in leather articles such as bags and shoes.[7] In 2014, concerns regarding chromium exposure from clothing items led the EU to introduce a limit of 3 mg/kg in all leather items.[8] Some clothes also contain bactericidal silver nanoparticles, which can be released from textiles during washing, abrasion and even just everyday usage, potentially contaminating not just us, but the environment too.[9] [10] [11] One study found this use of silver nanoparticles unnecessary, as similar results could be achieved with other silver formulations.[11]

 

One of the major health problems related to textile additive exposure is contact dermatitis and skin irritation.[12] [13] One study in 2014 detailed the epidemiological features of textile dermatitis, finding that it was most common in 40-50 year old females and in atopic dermatitis patients. Most cases were located on the hands in textile workers, and on the torso and legs in non-occupational cases. Just three specific dyes (Disperse Blue 124, Disperse Blue 106, and Disperse Yellow 3) were responsible for nearly 80% of cases.[14]

A 2013 report by the Swedish Chemicals Agency highlighted the lack of regulation surrounding textile manufacturing, stating that “today there is no unified legislation at the EU level covering the wide range of hazardous chemicals that may be present in textile products”.[1] Furthermore, it was also suggested that there is a need for EU-level regulation in order to obtain a more cohesive handling of chemical use in textile manufacture.[1]

So how can you limit your exposure to these toxic compounds? One way is by washing and airing new garments before wearing them. This is because many of these toxic compounds, such as formaldehyde, are water soluble and washing the clothing after purchasing it will remove much of the contamination.[13]

But change needs to come from the manufacturers too, who should take advantage of new methods that reduce the need for harmful chemicals.[15]



[1] Swedish Chemicals Agency. (2013) Hazardous chemicals in textiles – report of a government assignment. Retrieved May 2016 from, https://www.kemi.se/global/rapporter/2013/rapport-3-13-textiles.pdf

[2] Committee to Review the Formaldehyde Assessment in the National Toxicology Program 12th Report on Carcinogens; Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology; Division on Earth and Life Sciences;National Research Council. (2014) Review of the Formaldehyde Assessment in the National Toxicology Program 12th Report on Carcinogens. National Academies Press.

[3] Golka, K, Kopps, S, Myslak, ZW. (2004) Carcinogenicity of azo colorants: influence of solubility and bioavailability. Toxicol Lett. 151(1). 203-10.

[4] Martinez-Arquelles, DB, Papadopoulos, V. (2016) Prenatal phthalate exposure: epigenetic changes leading to lifelong impact on steroid formation. Andrology. [epub] doi: 10.1111/andr.12175

[5] European Commission (2002) Directive 2002/61/EC Retrieved May 2016 from, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2002:243:0015:0018:en:PDF

[6] Rovira, J, Nadal M, Schuhmacher, M, Domingo, JL. (2015) Human exposure to trace elements through the skin by direct contact with clothing: risk assessment. Environ Res. 140. 308-316.

[7] Salnikow, K, Zhitkovich, A. (2008) Genetic and Epigenetic Mechanisms in Metal Carcinogenesis and Cocarcinogenesis: Nickel, Arsenic and Chromium. Chem Res Toxicol. 21(1). 28-44.

[8] European Commission (2014)  Regulation (EU) No 301/2014. Retrieved May 2016 from, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32014R0301

[9] Geranio, L, Heuberger, M, Nowack, B. (2009) The behaviour of silver nanotextiles during washing. Environ Sci Technol. 43(21). 8113-8.

[10] Benn, TM, Westerhoff, P. (2008) Nanoparticle Silver Released into Water from Commercially Available Sock Fabrics. Environ Sci Technol. 42(11). 4133-9.

[11] Emam, HE, Manian, AP, Široká, B, Duelli, H, Redl, Pipal, A, Bechtold, T. (2013) Treatments to impart antimicrobial activity to clothing and household cellulosic-textiles – why “Nano”-silver? J Clean Prod. 39. 17-23.

[12] Brookstein, DS. (2009) Factors associated with textile pattern dermatitis caused by contact allergy to dyes, finishes, foams, and preservatives. Dermatol Clin. 27(3). 309-22

[13] Australian Government Department of Health. (2013) Formaldehyde in clothing and textiles FactSheet. Retrieved May 2016 from, https://www.nicnas.gov.au/communications/publications/information-sheets/existing-chemical-info-sheets/formaldehyde-in-clothing-and-textiles-factsheet

[14] Lisi, P, Stingeni, L, Cristaudo, A, Foti, C, Pigatto, P, Gola, M, Schena, D, Corazza, M, Bianchi, L. (2014) Clinical and epidemiological features of textile contact dermatitis:an Italian multicentre study. Contact Dermatitis. 70(6). 344-50.

[15] Yu, M, Li, W, Wang, Z, Zhang, B, Ma, H, Li, L, Li, J. (2016) Covalent immobilization of metal-organic frameworks onto the surface of nylon-a new approach to the functionalization and coloration of textiles. Sci Rep. 6. 22796.

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Regarding changes in manufacturing processes. Are they really needed? I think, if the garments can be cleaned from toxins by simple washing, the only possible change is to provide washing stage at the manufacture.

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In fact, all these toxins are all around us in our daily lifes, not only in our clothes. For example, formaldehyde and flame retardants are contained in furniture, and heavy metals are emitted into our the air we breath living in the city, but on the clothes it is right on your skin, too bad we have still got no stringent enough consumer protection to date.

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Why are silver nanoparticles bad? I heard something about that, about nanoparticles in general, that they are not so cool, but without thorough explanations. It would be great to find the article on this topic on this website too. 

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On 07.05.2017 at 6:50 PM, lachanceshe said:

In fact, all these toxins are all around us in our daily lifes, not only in our clothes. For example, formaldehyde and flame retardants are contained in furniture, and heavy metals are emitted into our the air we breath living in the city, but on the clothes it is right on your skin, too bad we have still got no stringent enough consumer protection to date.

This article is dedicated to clothes as a source. Sources that you mentioned emit toxins to the air and the risk is in inhalation of hazardous substances, but exposure through clothes is extremely different. The toxins are in direct contact with skin. 

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On 28.04.2017 at 3:51 PM, ssangster said:

Regarding changes in manufacturing processes. Are they really needed? I think, if the garments can be cleaned from toxins by simple washing, the only possible change is to provide washing stage at the manufacture.

But then all these toxins will get into sewage. It will affect ecosystem in general (fish, plankton, etc.) and eventually will return to people through water or food. This is not a solution at all. 

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Why do our clothes contain so general information regarding its composition? People should know what they wear. It would be great to have symbols for different dyes and other additives which would indicate how dangerous they are. For example, special symbol for all additives that are potential allergens, another one for additives which cause harm to the environment, another - for those which are potential carcinogenes. Though the latter should be forbidden at all.

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Good idea, yatingdu! It would be very helpful. I didn't know that our clothes contain so many detrimental to our health and different additives, because I am so gullible that if I read 100% cotton, I believe that it is cotton and nothing more. Now my eyes have opened, but unfortunately I can't do a lot about this. It really depends on manufacturers and regulations. People rather have almost no choice. 

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Come on, people! Do you really believe your health can be affected by micro-concentrations of dyes and other additives? And manufacturers are right when they write 100% cotton. It's senseless to write 99.999% cotton and 0.001% dye. 

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I live in the non-EU country. I think there are no even such regulations (as in EU) in my country whatsoever. Moreover my city shop shelfs are full of Chineese clothes, which I think are made without any content restriction at all. It mostly has characteristic oil product repugnant smell, it can't be harmless. It's frighting me, because people who have no choice because of their low salaries they buy only cheap and dangerous clothes. And it is a real shame but cheap clothes means only expensive health care bills after wearing and getting critically ill. 

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Wow! I didn't know that clothes can be so hazardous. Thank you for advice :) From this moment I will always wash new articles before wearing them. BTW, what to do with garments that cannot be washed? Should they be cleaned in dry-cleaner's? Won't it add even more harmful chemicals to my clothes?

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Another side of textile dyes issue is resources needed to color fabrics. Manufacture of fabrics consumes a lot of energy and water, and on top of that in some countries water with toxic additives is discharged to rivers. The industry needs global solution dealing with both problems: high consumption of resources and exposure to hazardous substances through textiles.

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