It is well known that the textile industry uses a large range of toxic chemicals in both synthetic and natural fabrics. The use of these toxins during production and marketing can result in the presence of some of these substances in the final products.
Some of these toxins can come from the pesticides used on fields for vegetable fibres or, for animals, the pesticides used for external parasites. After this initial process, ethoxylate alkylphenols or solvents such as trichloroethylene can be used to clean the yarn. After this, substances are used for various different reasons: lubricants and glues so that the threads do not break in the looms and weaving machines; chemical products for desizing or whitening; synthetic dyes, prints etc. to finish the products; pesticides so that the clothes are not ruined in the warehouses; compounds to prevent shrinking etc.
This can result in the use of various chemicals during production such as ethoxylate alkylphenols, trichloroethylene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, fungicides, trichloromethane, dioxins, chromium-6, benzene, phthalates, flame retardants, lead, organo-stannic compounds, formaldehyde, perfluorinated compounds etc.
Of course, several of these chemicals can remain in the clothes either as residues or because they are used deliberately. This is the case for flame retardants, formaldehyde and perfluorinated compounds which are used to prevent water damage and stains.
Evidently, these substances do not stay in our clothes for ever and are often gradually emitted into the air inside our homes where they can be detected in household dust.
In October 2003, Greenpeace carried out research on a range of printed garments from a major label as part of their investigation to find the toxic chemicals in household dust. They detected ethoxylated alkylphenol phthalates, organo-stannic compounds, lead, cadmium and formaldehyde in many of these clothes.
Previously, the same organisation analysed clothes by major labels and found, in 14 of these labels, levels of nonylphenol ethoxylate (a pollutant known to have hormonal effects).
Finally, we mustn’t forget the chemicals that remain in our clothes from laundry detergents used, as well as those used in dry-cleaning.