We have the illusion that clothes and bedding made from synthetic fibers are safe, but the materials are in fact full of invisible chemicals the clothing/furniture industry prefers we don’t think about. A hundred years ago, bedding and clothing was made of natural fibers like cotton, flax, wool, and silk. In the early 1900s synthetics were developed. Although rayon was introduced in 1924, the first truly synthetic fiber was nylon, made by DuPont from the petro-molecule toluene. Nylon became a popular material for women’s panty hose.
Other synthetics followed: Acrylic (1950), aka, “wash-and-wear” fabrics a “revolutionary time-saving leap” for homemakers. Polyester (1953), “wrinkle free” fabrics developed from xylene and ethylene. Spandex and olefin (1959), which became the mainstay of sportswear, swim suits, and thermal underwear. Olefin is produced by “cracking” petroleum molecules into propylene and ethylene gases. Today’s clothing (a $7 trillion/year industry) is manufactured using an astounding 8,000 synthetic chemicals.
Nowadays, clothes and bedding also contain toxins like formaldehyde, brominated flame retardants, and perfluorinated chemicals (Teflon) to provide “non-iron” and “non-wrinkle” qualities. Insecticides are even applied in the name of good health! For half a century, skin and chemicals have been interacting, creating problems like infertility, respiratory diseases, contact dermatitis, and cancer. The more synthetic clothing you wear, the greater your risk of absorbing toxic chemicals that harm your health.
The Problems with Synthetics
When toxins are absorbed through your skin –your largest organ — they bypass your liver, the organ responsible for removing toxins. You also may not realize that your skin keeps you healthy by venting toxins up to a pound per day.
Petrochemical fibers restrict and suffocate your skin — shutting down toxic release. Meanwhile, they contribute to your total toxic burden and may become the “tipping point” for triggering the onset of disease. Two contributing factors are
(1) toxic buildup in your body and
(2) multiple chemicals that interact together to create even worse problems than the individual chemicals by themselves.
Skin rashes, nausea, fatigue, burning, itching, headaches, and difficulty breathing are all associated with chemical sensitivity. If you have mysterious health symptoms that you can’t seem to get control over, it’s worth checking out whether your clothes could be the problem.
The Chemicals You Wear Every Day.
With a “mere” 8,000 chemicals used in clothing manufacture, it’s a sure bet you’re wearing many as you read this. Let’s highlight some of the worst. These kinds of fabric finishes “scream” chemicals…
Wrinkle free, shrinkage free garments release formaldehyde.
Water Repellent — Fluoropolymers (as in Teflon) are used to repel oil and water
Bacterial and fungicidal chemicals –Triclosan and nano-particles are used for this.
Formaldehyde is linked to a 30% increase in lung cancer, plus skin/lung irritation and contact dermatitis. It is found in fabrics claiming to be: Anti-cling, anti-static, anti-shrink, waterproof, perspiration-proof, moth-proof and mildew resistant, chorine resistant. It’s also used in dyes and printing to fix the design and prevent “running”.
Most governments restrict formaldehyde levels in clothing–but not the U.S. One of the worst offenders is China. Beware of “Made in China” labels. Use of formaldehyde in clothing is extremely widespread. There have even been lawsuits alleging high levels of it in Victoria’s Secret bras.
High temps and humidity make “poison clothes” even worse — they open your pores and increase chemical absorption. And you absorb formaldehyde from multiple sources daily, so don’t be fooled by manufacturers’ reassurances. Disperse Blue Dyes may look gorgeous — even regal — but they put you at high risk for contact dermatitis especially dark blue, brown, and black synthetic clothing.
It’s important to note — laundering does not reverse that risk. Worse, Disperse Blue 1 is classified as a human carcinogen due to high malignant tumor levels in lab animals. Incidentally, you might be interested to know that this dye also shows up in cosmetics and semi-permanent hair dyes.
Fire and burn hazards: The Marine Corps now prohibits troops in Iraq from wearing synthetic clothing while off base after too many unfortunate burns from soldiers wearing polyester, acrylic, and nylon , which readily melts in high heat and fuses to the skin. (Dudes, what did you expect? The stuff is a first cousin to plastic. Both are products of the oil industry.) Of course, that begs the question of whether flame retardants are safer.
Flame Retardant use began in 1971, when government required children’s sleepwear to be self-extinguishing. The solution was to add brominated Tris. Studies measuring urine samples showed that this chemical is readily absorbed. Brominated Tris is a mutagen, and causes cancer and sterility in animals. (Mutagens cause inheritable mutations by damaging DNA.) They also cause testicular atrophy and sterility.
Tris was banned in children’s clothing in 1977 (but lives on in upholstered furniture foam, baby carriers, and bassinets). Today most synthetic fabrics contain a new generation of flame retardants bonded into the fabric, which must survive 50+ washings. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Burn Center, only 36 children a year suffer serious injuries from sleepwear catching fire.
Is the toxic contamination of millions of children worth protecting 36 children per year from burns? This sort of regulation is a product of the “precautionary principle” and the notion that there should be no limit to the amount of money spent or the amount of inconvenience inflicted on millions of people when it comes to preventing rare dangers that affect a tiny number of people. The mania for making our society risk-proof and accident-proof actually increases danger in many cases.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission exempts certain sleepwear from flammability standards. Two companies selling kids’ sleepwear without flame retardants are L.L. Bean and Lands’ End. But it’s not just children’s sleepwear. Demand is high for fire-retardant uniforms and civilian clothing. Lab studies show that flame retardants (PBDEs) can cause a slew of health issues, thyroid problems, brain damage, ADHD symptoms, and fertility problems. The insecticide permethrin is now in civilian outdoor wear and military uniforms even though no long-term studies have assessed its safety.
Silver nanoparticles in name-brand clothing create anti-odor, anti-wrinkle, and anti-stain clothes. “Nano” means “really tiny”, super-microscopic. Nano-particles in clothing can create easily absorbed toxins that, due to their miniscule size, are transported into all your organs, including your brain, consequences unknown. Other scary toxins include sulfuric acid, urea resin, sulfonamides, halogens, and sodium hydroxide.
The Health Hazards of Built-Up Electrical Charges,
Electrostatic charges accumulate in synthetic clothing. There are stories of shocking mini-explosions from mixing layers of synthetic clothing with synthetic carpeting. And get this: synthetic undergarments contribute to infertility in men.
A 24-month study of male dogs wearing either loose-fitting polyester underpants or loose-fitting cotton ones showed that wearing polyester created significant decreases in sperm count and degeneration of the testes. The animals wearing cotton suffered no side effects.
Scientists think polyester traps body heat, encourages chemical absorption, and creates electrostatic build-up, which all affect sperm count.
Flame retardant chemicals are in almost everything: Not only in our TV’s, clothing, furniture, carpets and electronic equipment; they are also in our air, water, food and our own bodies. Their levels are especially high in our babies and children, because children eat, drink and breathe more than adults. These chemicals disrupt our thyroid function, immune systems, brain development and can possibly cause cancers. Human blood and tissue levels of these toxins have been doubling every two and a half years in the USA. What are these chemicals and what can you do to protect yourself and your family from their effects? The manufacturers aren’t required to put the fire retardant chemicals on the label. The most commonly used chemicals, and their health hazards are:
* Boric acid – Inhaling the dust can cause headaches, coughing, dizziness or difficulty breathing. Prolong contact may cause skin sensitization.
* PBDE’s – are prohibited in the European Union after high levels were found in breast milk. California has decided to phase out the use of two of these, penta and octa PBDE by 2008. PBDEs accumulate in the body tissues and cause thyroid hormone disruption, permanent learning and memory impairment, decreased sperm count, fetal malformations, behavioral changes, hearing deficiencies and possibly cancer. U.S. women have levels in their body tissues 50 times more than European women. (For more eye-opening information, click on the link at the end of this report to “Our Stolen Future” Website containing results of a study of PBDEs).
* Formaldehyde – the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission states in a report on urethane insulation, “Many health complaints, including irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin, headaches and shortness of breath, have been reported to CPSC over the last several years by consumers who have had UFFI in their homes. Less frequently reported symptoms include chest pain, diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, and sleep disturbance. Studies have shown that formaldehyde in liquid solution (and possibly formaldehyde gas) can, through repeated exposure, cause sensitization in certain individuals. When exposed to formaldehyde gas, sensitized individuals may exhibit allergic dermatitis or mild-to-severe asthmatic reactions.” This was talking about formaldehyde outgassing from insulation. The same effects would occur from exposure to formaldehyde outgassing while you are sleeping in your bed. CPSC considers formaldehyde to be a potential human carcinogen.
* Decabromodipheyl Oxide – is a developmental toxicant. Exposing mothers to it during pregnancy can cause the death of or disrupt the development of the fetus. It causes birth defects and low birth weight. Behavioral or psychological problems can appear as the child grows.
* Melamine – is a reproductive toxicant, which can cause premature menopause, decreases in male and female fertility, onset of puberty, and changes in menstruation, gestation time, and lactation. It is a development toxicant with all of the hazards of Decabromodiphyl Oxide mentioned above. It is a cardiovascular and blood toxicant. This affects the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells to fight disease, abnormal heartbeat, decreased blood flow, and elevated blood pressure.
* Antimony – The Australian Government Department of Environment and Heritage says of antimony,” Antimony compounds show toxic properties similar to those of arsenic. This depends on how much antimony a person has been exposed to, for how long, and current state of health. Exposure to high levels of antimony can result in a variety of adverse health effects. Breathing high levels for a long time can irritate eyes and lungs and can cause heart and lung problems, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach ulcers. Ingesting large doses of antimony can cause vomiting. When eaten by mold or mildew, antimony releases a poisonous gas called stibine. This gas has caused epidemics of deaths in the past. These are a few of the chemicals used as fire retardants. Polyols, toluene diisocyante, amines, siloxanes, styrene, limonene, benzene and many others are also used. If you find any chemicals listed on your mattress label, you can search the web for more information. Write the chemical in the search box adding a comma, then write “health hazard.” But you can’t trust the label, because by law therre is no requirement to list any or all of the ingredients.
Natural and organic clothing is becoming more popular again. But it can still be a challenge to find it, and you may have to piece together items from multiple suppliers. Here’s empowerment for the process…
Priority #1 — Choose natural fibers.
- Cotton — preferably organic. It still remains the “king” of textiles. Organic accounts for less than 1% of worldwide production.
- Flax — one of nature’s strongest fibers.
- Hemp — grows without any need for fungicides, herbicides, or pesticides because it’s naturally insect-resistant. Its fibers are reported to be four times stronger than cotton. This is NOT the hemp known for its mind-altering properties!
- Silk — known as the “queen of fabrics”. Watch out for the use of synthetic dyes in silk.
- Wool — most of today’s wool is contaminated with chemicals, i.e., pesticides used to kill parasites. But organic wool is becoming more common.
- Other — alpaca, angora, camel, cashmere, mohair, ramie, aluyot.