Most Common Chemicals in Clothes

Most Common Chemicals in Clothes

You are shopping for a new dress or a new suit and you want a stain resistant and wrinkle resistant fabric. What are you really putting on your skin when you buy such a product? What health considerations are you sacrificing in the name of convenience? Formaldehyde, a ‘frank’ carcinogen shown in lab testing of animals to cause cancer, is but one of the toxic chemicals used in these fabrics. Most clothing is now manufactured in China where permissible levels of formaldehyde are higher than EPA standards for U.S manufacturers.

Children are particularly vulnerable to chemical sensitivities triggered by the clothing they wear, especially if they are required to wear uniforms during the school year. Many school uniforms are coated with a family of chemicals called PFC’s that give fabrics stain resistance and the ‘non-iron’ wrinkle resistance often found in school trousers and skirts. These perfluorinated compounds have been classified as probable cancer-causative agents by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

As clothes containing these chemicals become worn with repeated washings and wear, the chemicals migrate from the fabric and become particles that can be absorbed or inhaled by children. “Without knowing it, parents are exposing their children to toxic chemicals in clothing that could have serious future consequences for their health and the environment,” declared Dr. Richard Dixon, head of the environmental group WWF Scotland, in a 2004 media alert. “Children are usually more vulnerable to the effects of chemicals than adults, so the presence of these substances in school clothing is particularly alarming.”

Studies done by the Environmental Working Group in the U.S. have detected PFOA, one of the common Teflon-like chemicals, in the blood of 96 percent of all Americans tested. Another study by the same organization in 2004, using umbilical cord blood donated by U.S. hospitals, found the eight types of perfluorochemicals in nearly all of the samples, demonstrating that mothers absorb the chemicals during every day activities and then transfer the toxins directly into the fetuses they carry.

The long term health consequences of this contamination in the unborn remains in the realm of speculation for two reasons: these contaminants are now so prevalent in humans and wildlife that they can’t be separated from the presence of other toxic chemicals being absorbed simultaneously; and these chemicals were only introduced into clothing and other consumer products within the past few decades, so we don’t have much evidence generated by a lifetime of use. But we feel assured that PFC’s absorbed from clothing and other sources can’t be healthy for children or the rest of us.