When Fast Fashion Makes You Sick + What To Do
We are becoming increasingly aware of harmful chemicals in our food and personal care products, but what about the items we wear daily? Our clothes, scarves, and accessories are equally to blame.
In 2012, Greenpeace’s Detox Campaign exposed many clothing companies and the harmful chemicals that were found in their clothing. Out of 141 items of clothing from 20 different brands, they found high levels of toxic phthalates, azo dyes, and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) that all release cancer-causing amines. Not only are these chemicals contaminating our waterways and vegetation, they are also contributing to cancer, autoimmune diseases, and disrupting hormones. NPEs have a hormonal effect on human beings - they're plasticizer residues suspected to cause infertility.
Approximately 90% of all clothing is synthetically dyed. Synthetic dyes are hazardous and dangerous for all the stakeholders: garment workers, consumers, and the environment. The garment workers have to inhale these chemicals nearly every day that they produce product. They are also absorbed directly through the skin. Azo dye pigments are synthetic substances used to achieve extremely intense coloring. Some, however, can release toxic or carcinogenic substances. This is also a concern for the environment: many textile manufacturers in India and China release their wastewater directly into rivers, without filtering it first.
Another concern is the pesticide, herbicide, and insecticide exposure. One of the largest global concerns, but not the only concern, is conventional cotton. Approximately 68% of women's clothing contains conventional cotton and 85% of men's clothing. The U.S. textile manufacturers produce about 3.8 billion tons of cotton and a little over half goes directly to the apparel industry. According to the USDA, cotton industry uses over 2 billion tons of synthetic fertilizers. Conventionally grown cotton uses 25% of the insecticides applied worldwide making it the single most highest insecticide latent crop in the world. This makes conventional cotton a very significant factor in the pollution of the environment.
While there are measures you can take to protect yourself from an overwhelming amount of toxic chemical exposure, there is no way to completely protect yourself or other consumers from toxic chemicals in clothing altogether.
How to Make a Difference
- Avoid polyester and nylon because they are made from toxic chemicals and resources. They are mainly derived from petroleum and their production releases dangerous chemicals into the atmosphere, contributing to increased global warming.
- Choose organic cotton when possible, this lessens the impact of harmful chemicals on your body and creates a higher demand for safer and healthier cotton practices.
- Choose Fair Trade to support workers in safe working conditions with fair wages.
- Choose items that are not dyed or were dyed naturally.