Lee Euler, Editor
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Are There Cancer-Causing
Personally, I'm very sensitive to dyes, chemicals, and treated fabrics. I even have white "all cotton" sheets I can't use because they make me sick. I'm certainly not alone — over a million results pop up on Google when you search "chemical sensitivities to clothing."
The good news is that it's easy to fix this problem, once you understand it.
Your chemical-laced clothing
In a recent study commissioned by Greenpeace International, several major clothing brands were found guilty of using nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) in the manufacturing process. This chemical breaks down into toxic nonylphenol (NP), which has hormone-disrupting properties that persist over time and can be hazardous even at low levels.
The clothing brands tested included 14 leading brands like Calvin Klein, Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, Ralph Lauren, Nike, and H&M. The clothing articles that were tested were manufactured in at least 13 different countries. Greenpeace used an independent laboratory to test for the presence of NPEs. Of the 78 articles tested, a full two-thirds (52 items) tested positive for NPEs higher than the regulated limit of detection (1 milligram NPEs/kilogram material).
NPE is actually banned from use in textile production in a lot of countries, including those in the European Union, but regulations are lax in most Asian countries where a lot of global clothing brands source their products. The chemical is most commonly used in the dyeing process.
The fact that NPEs were detected in the fabrics proved they were used during production. And if they were used in production, there's a good chance they were released into the environment where they're unable to fully break down. This stuff hangs around for a long time.
That's bad enough, but on top of that, global exports deliver clothing with residual NPEs to markets where those chemicals are banned in clothing manufacture. Worse, washing these clothing items releases NPEs into water treatment facilities unequipped to handle them. "Treatment" at those facilities generally only speeds up the breakdown of NPEs into toxic NPs. Those NPs end up in aquatic systems, build up in the food chain (fish, for instance), and then come back to us. (If you want to read the full Greenpeace report, go here.)
We know for sure that this increase of hormonal buildup released by chemicals in our environment taxes our bodies in major ways. It may be having an immediate effect on our children, and especially on young girls. Puberty for girls used to begin around age 15 or 16 over a hundred years ago. Now, it starts as early as age nine. The average age of menopause has also been adjusted — now it's ten to 15 years later than it used to be.
The reasons for ever-earlier puberty are not known for sure. It's a controversial topic. But NPEs may be a factor.
Not only does early onset of puberty increase a woman's number of fertile years, it increases her chances of breast cancer.
But it's not just Greenpeace finding all the bad news. Chinese authorities have also tested for and found cancer-causing textile dyes in clothing manufactured by some popular Chinese brands, including Jeanswest and Baoxinlai (sold both in China and abroad). In this case, the offending toxin is decomposable aromatic amine, a poisonous dye that has been banned since 2006.
This dye cannot be washed out of fabric and is easily absorbed into human skin. With long-term exposure, it can cause cancer.
Wearing scented chemicals
Can damage your health
The health risks of clothing don't stop in the manufacturing process. Depending on the laundry products you use, you may be coating your clothes with even more cancer-causing chemicals.
In a study conducted by Anne Steinemann of the University of Washington, there is a sickening cocktail of chemicals that gets emitted through the air vents of clothes dryers. The toxic elements stem from both liquid detergent and perfumed dryer sheets. Steinemann's analysis found over 25 volatile organic compounds, seven of which are considered hazardous air pollutants, in the dryer vents. Two of those chemicals — acetaldehyde and benzene — are considered carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The fumes alone potentially cause headaches, asthma, and possibly even seizures. Dryer sheets are the worst offenders since their chemical ingredients get heated up and released into the air, posing a respiratory health risk to anyone who breathes the fumes — whether they're inside or outside your home.
Sustained exposure to the chemicals from dryer sheets and liquid fabric softener may very well have a toxic effect. Both products contain benzyl acetate (linked to pancreatic cancer), limonene (a known carcinogen), and chloroform (a neurotoxin and carcinogen).
Fabric softeners in particular are designed to stay in your clothes for an extended period of time. This means those chemicals gradually seep out and are either inhaled or get absorbed directly through the skin.
Just the fragrance chemicals alone in these products are extremely toxic, known to cause liver damage and cancer in mammals. These things are only approved for consumer use because the FDA considers them cosmetic products — on the same level with shampoo, deodorants, and creams. The agency claims there are no health risks because those chemicals aren't absorbed through the skin.
That's a grossly false belief. For a regulatory agency to say, "There's no problem! The skin doesn't absorb a thing!" is the equivalent of claiming all the transdermal patches on the market don't work. And nowadays, a wide variety of pharmaceuticals are available in transdermal patch form, including nicotine patches for smoking cessation, opioid medications for pain relief, estrogen patches for contraception or menopausal symptoms, and scopolamine for motion sickness.
As I've often said, if you depend on these government agencies to look out for you, make sure your insurance is paid up — health and life — because you're gonna need it. The agencies mostly function to reassure the public that the products of industry are just fine — so you don't look into the matter too closely yourself. People who do are considered cranks and kooks.
Natural ways to keep poisonous
chemicals out of your clothes
What we know for sure is that the skin is our largest organ. Our bodies drink in anything we put on it, including chemicals that linger on and in our clothing.
A lot of factors are contributing to this poison problem in our clothes, from lax regulation in the clothing manufacturing process to lack of education regarding laundry products. But at least there are a few things we can do about it.
As far as avoiding clothes that were mixed with toxins in the manufacturing process, your best bet is to either buy organic clothing or buy clothes manufactured in the U.S. or the E.U.
And the laundry product issue is really a good reminder not to focus all our attention on pollution from cars and industry. A lot of it happens right in our own homes.
On the brighter side, plenty of "green" companies are now coming out with safer fabric softeners. Seventh Generation and Ecover both have options that rely on vegetable products and natural essential oils. There's also Maddocks' Static Eliminator, a non-toxic, hypoallergenic reusable dryer sheet made out of a proprietary, chemical-free polynylon.
A word of warning: I find I have a bad reaction to a lot of the "green" laundry products found in health food stores. One problem is the mania for scenting everything. Try them out carefully and observe your own symptoms. Headaches, muscles aches, skin problems or respiratory problems may be caused by these products.
Another great alternative to the laundry product problem is to use "homemade" fabric softener. National Geographic's Green Guide recommends adding either a quarter cup of baking soda or a quarter cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle. Either one will soften clothes, while the latter will also address static cling (but don't mix either one with bleach since the resulting chemical reactions could cause noxious fumes).
Or, you could take several strips of an old cotton shirt or pillowcase and soak them in a jar of vinegar combined with an essential oil, like eucalyptus. Add a strip to every load you toss in the dryer. Or just put the vinegar mixture in a spray bottle and spray the wet laundry.
I haven't tried baking soda or white vinegar in my wash — if you have, drop me a line at our letters to the editor address: firstname.lastname@example.org
And of course, the best "old-fashioned" solution to keeping chemicals out of your clothes is drying them outside on a clothes line. Let the fresh air and sunshine do all the work. Even here, alas, I have to introduce a word of caution: quite a bit of pollen can settle on clothes hanging outside. So if you have allergies you may need to be alert to the problem.
Lee Euler Publisher
"Cancer-causing dyes in Chinese clothes." Beijing. IBN Live. http://ibnlive.in.com/news/cancercausing-dyes-in-chinese-
"'Cancer risk' of perfumed products that go in your tumble-dryer as chemicals are found in air from vents." By James Tozer, Mail Online. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2029873/Cancer-risk-
"Death by fashion: is your wardrobe poisoning the world's water supply?" by Gervase Poulden, the Ecologist. http://www.theecologist.org/green_green_living/clothing/1028204/death_by_fashion
"Dirty Laundry 2: Hung Out to Dry | Unraveling the toxic trail from pipes to products." Greenpeace." http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/toxics
"Ditch the Dryer Sheets: Spray-Fresh DIY Fabric Softener." by Crunchy Betty. http://www.crunchybetty.com/ditch-the-dryer-sheets-diy-fabric-softener
"'Greener' Laundry by the Load: Fabric Softener versus Dryer Sheets." Scientific American. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=greener-laundry
"Greenpeace finds highly toxic chemicals in branded clothing." By Christina Luisa, Natural News. http://www.naturalnews.com/033436_toxic_chemicals_clothing.html
"Toxic Fashion: Your Clothes May Cause Cancer." City Weekend Blog. http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijing/articles/blogs-beijing/
"Warning: Many dryer sheets contain cancer causing chemicals." By Mike Adams, Natural News. http://www.naturalnews.com/002693_personal_care_products_dryer_sheets.html
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