The sneaky way chemicals creep into the home.
Like many of you, I pay a good deal of attention to the foods I eat, buying organic as often as possible to limit my exposure to pesticides and other chemicals.
I'm careful about the kind of cleaning products I use around the house, the chemicals found in personal care products are particularly on my radar. No doubt you do too!
So, I was thinking I had the chemical prevention thing all covered.
I was cleaning out the lint collector in my clothes dryer a few years ago, and suddenly copped a face full of textile dust. This was the moment that something went 'clunk' in my head, and the following pieces of the chemical puzzle really fell into place for me:
Chemicals enter our bodies in multiple ways
The State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and WHO says that:
"Human exposure can occur via the ingestion of food, dust and water, inhalation of gases and particles in the air, and skin contact."
Hormone disrupting and cancer causing chemicals are being used in the production of textiles in massive quantities
The Swedish Chemicals Agency Report 'Chemicals in Textiles: Risks to human health and the environment' established that the regulation, tracking and reporting of over 2,400 chemicals commonly used in textile production is inadequate to prevent the hazards posed by the 10% of commonly used chemicals in textiles that have been linked to cancer and hormonal disruption in humans.
Residues of these chemicals enter our homes carried on our clothes, linen and fabrics
The Greenpeace report 'Toxic Threads' documented the fact that 63% of new clothing tested - a sample including many of the worlds leading brands - succeeded in carrying chemicals beyond the point of sale. This report tested clothing, however, what this does is confirm that fabrics are a delivery system for residual chemicals into the home.
These chemicals are pouring into global waterways
If you've had a chance to see The True Cost documentary (I highly recommend it - buy yourself a copy from The True Cost Movie website) you'll remember the disturbing sight of thousands of tonnes of toxic wastewater from a leather-manufacturing factory pouring into local river systems in Bangladesh.
It was the mention of Chromium 6 in that instance that had me hollering for Erin Brockovich. But you get the point, these chemicals are seeping into farmlands and fresh waterways globally.
It obviously needs to be said that water does not respect national borders and this toxic, polluted water spreads great distances.
It's particularly dangerous for babies and infants
This is where the WHO report gets quite alarming 'There is sufficient data in human populations to conclude that high exposures to thyroid disrupting PCBs* during fetal development or to potential EDCs*, such as lead and mercury, are linked to general cognitive problems and alterations in sexual behaviour. Even relatively low exposures, however, are associated with reduced cognitive function.' As with any hormone disrupting chemical, exposure during childhood poses risks to the healthy development into adultdhood.
We don't know the full extent of the risk?
One of the persistent messages coming from the literature on the subject is that there is not enough known about the many chemicals routinely used in textile production. The WHO report goes on to say that "many chemicals, each at levels without individual effect, could act together to cause health problems."
How disturbing that not even the global health authorities know!
But it's not all bad news
The WHO report also notes that when Governments sought to ban or regulate POP's (Persistent Organic Pollutants) there was a drop in the readings of these pollutants in the ecosystem. So recovery of ecosystems and health is possible, however we must act now.
Making the change
When I set out to create an ethical, environmentally responsible range of bedlinen, I was adamant that no farmer would be soaked in pesticides to grow the crops and I was determined that the women sewing the duvet covers would be treated as the artisan craftspeople that they are. I asked them their views of working with organic materials and they were grateful to be working with a healthy textile product.
As we discover more and more of the hidden dangers in our conventional business practices, my determination to drive change by example in this industry grows ever greater.
But this stuff about chemicals in our clothes dryers really takes the cake for me.
Together we can make a huge difference to the chemical legacy we leave for our children, and it is businesses like mine, which must push forward and find ways to meet our needs in a responsible and sustainable manner.
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Founding Ethical Designer - Organic Bed Threads
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*PCB: polychlorinated biphenyl - were widely used as dielectric and coolant fluids, this means that they reduce the chance of fires occurring in electrical fields in such a manner that is safe for electricians to work with. Due to PCBs' environmental toxicity and classification as a persistent organic pollutant, PCB production was banned by the United States Congress in 1979 and by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PCBs cause cancer in animals and are probable human carcinogens.
*EDC: Endocrine disrupting chemicals are mostly man-made, found in various materials such as pesticides, metals, additives or contaminants in food, and personal care products. EDCs have been suspected to be associated with altered reproductive function in males and females; increased incidence of breast cancer, abnormal growth patterns and neurodevelopmental delays in children, as well as changes in immune function.
Choice Article - Chemicals in Clothing