Indulgent yet responsible fabrics

Good Bye, Leigh Anne

O Ecotextiles (and Two Sisters Ecotextiles)

Dear Readers

You may have noticed that we have not posted but about 3 times in the past– well, almost three years.  The sad reason for this falling-down-on-the-job is that my sister – my fellow founder, long-time business partner, and the primary researcher and first draft writer of this blog (started in 2009!), Leigh Anne, has early onset dementia. She can no longer work. 

The absence of blog posts is evidence enough of my (Patty’s, that is.   The two sisters are Leigh Anne and Patty. Leigh is the red head in the photo. I am the other one.) difficulty in accepting this reality.  Leigh Anne was thoroughgoingly passionate about researching and investigating the safety and environmental issues of textile production and use.  Continuing both the company and the blog is the best way to honor her.  I have numerous blogs ready to go – even though, again sadly, most of Leigh’s blogs are still relevant as too little progress has occurred in fabric production. 

As Leigh used to say, fabric gets no respect !

And, boy, should it.

Because fabric production requires gargantuan amounts of energy, chemicals, and water.

Simply through your fabric choices, you can improve climate change, toxicity pollution, and water pollution – and EASILY!  You do not have to park your car and get on a bike. 

Both Leigh and I have/had a tendency to report too many facts in an academic atmosphere. We don’t summarize well.  I’ll be attempting to do that (summarizing) in the near future, so busy people don’t have to read through paragraphs and paragraphs of supporting evidence in order to get to the takeaway.   (But we will direct you to the sources and evidence to support the facts we report). Please stay subscribed and let your friends know!

Leigh Anne and I used to disagree vigorously about many issues.  Our husbands were always amazed about how we fought and fought but retained zero ill will, even in the same day. But one thing we agreed on:  Reveal your black eyes. Be so honest that people trust you. We felt fine about revealing ridiculous mistakes to customers, investors etc., assuming they would know that we would learn from mistakes. Give people the information that we would expect (that is, everything). Do not interpret without supporting evidence. Have and reveal sources.  State the truth or the truth in process (studies). Minimize opinion. Minimize marketing hype. Don’t have a strategy other than the truth and facts – above a product of value fit for its intended purpose, of course. Among our first three initial tag lines was “Ask for the data.”   “Indulgent but responsible” and “Organic but Opulent” were the others. (We have only recently gone opulent!  Thank you, John Koval).

We have never spent money on advertising, or even SEO.  Our odd, overly technical blog on relatively obscure issues about completely unsexy fabric has been our only promotional vehicle.  I’m not bragging about this. It is far from optimal (made necessary by a lack of capital).  We will change this soon (money allowing).  We think that we do still have a solid foundation for growth because people trust what we say. (Yes ! We make mistakes!)

Thank you for reading. Thank you for your interest. Onward and upward. There remains WAY too much greenwashing in textiles!  Animals, your family, the planet – you can be a big part in helping to save them through your fabric choices.  Change your choices. (Ask for, insist on, GOTS certified or Oeko-Tex certified as long as the fabric certified by Oeko-Tex is natural fibers).

Life is short.  Hug the ones you love. And say a prayer to whomever you worship for Leigh Anne. She was and is a lovely soul.


Polyester is not stain resistant

O Ecotextiles (and Two Sisters Ecotextiles)

Recently, we attended a webinar about how to keep your home free of toxins.  In the conversation about which fabrics to choose for your furniture, one of the panelists suggested using a synthetic (polyester) fabric to avoid stains.

People often think synthetic fiber fabrics are naturally stain resistant. They are not. They are stain resistant because of the addition of chemicals which you do NOT want to bring into your home. 

Now, the situation is a little more complicated than: They are NOT.  Synthetic fibers are both hydrophobic, meaning that they resist absorbing liquids; and oilophilic, meaning that they more readily absorb oils and grease. There is a continuum of these states, hydrophilic – hydrophobic and oilophilic – oilophobic; but it is true that natural fiber fabrics are both hydrophilic and oilophobic.  This means that natural fiber fabrics absorb water well, but oil poorly.   Synthetic fiber fabrics are the opposite:  They are hydrophobic and oilophilic, meaning that they resist absorbing water but more readily absorb oils and grease.

The fact that natural fibers are hydrophilic also means that they clean much better than hydrophilic synthetics.  Washing machines (all washing action, with a machine, or by hand) depends on water absorption to clean.  The more absorbent the fibers, the better they will clean.

So what do these hydro/oil phobic/philic characteristics mean for the staining and stain removal behavior of natural fibers versus synthetic fibers? It means that, lacking the addition of chemicals that we would all prefer to avoid, or that we should avoid AT ALL COSTS, a natural fiber fabric will absorb water-based stains more easily than a synthetic, but you will have an easier time removing that stain.  Natural fibers will resist oil-based stains better than synthetics. And should you get an oil-based stain, you will have an easier time removing it than from a synthetic fabric.  Synthetics will not clean in your washer nearly as well.

Synthetic fibers are almost never left “pure,” that is, the fiber only in the yarn.  They are turned into “performance” fabrics which do not stain, wrinkle, fade, or yell back at you, by the addition of chemicals. Synthetic fibers have the characteristics that people want, not because of their inherent characteristics, but because producers add chemicals which are both supremely toxic and which migrate into your home and into our environment.   Americans want their fabric to BEHAVE, and the chemical industry has stepped up!!

PFAs (and their close cousins PFOAs, PFCs and PFOs), are some of the  “forever chemicals”  used n fabric to make them behave.  They are worth learning about so you can protect yourself and your family. We’ve written many articles about this critical problem.  The state of California has just taken steps to regulate PFAs. (More about this in a later post – but please look at the many posts in our blog about these chemicals. Simply search   for  “PFA”  or “stain resistant” or close in the search bar on our (this)blog.)

Some of the chemicals used in performance fabrics have been voluntarily limited in use in the US, but their close cousins are in constant use. And none have been outlawed. Even asbestos is still perfectly legal to use in products in the US and with no notification at all. (The New York Times has a relatively new section, Wirecutter, a product recommendation section, which announces why they are so expert in suggesting products for us. They gayly ignore the facts about toxicity reported in other sections of the same newspaper – More about that later !!)

The most surprising, most troubling, fact in this post is most likely the fact that there is NO LAW, absolutely no requirement, to reveal anything about finishes used or additives added to fabrics at any stage of the production process – not the melt or fiber preparation stage, the yarn (spinning) stage, weaving, or post production stages.  It is perfectly legal, in the USA, to add asbestos to your fabric and not tell you.  The only facts required to be revealed about fabrics are: the fiber content and the country of origin (which is where was it woven, even though there might be 6 or more different countries involved in the supply chain of the fabric).  There are, in the US, five chemicals which are prohibited in manufacturing; and a smattering of others that are regulated spottily.   Thousands of chemicals are used regularly in textile production.  Roughly 400  are prohibited or limited by GOTS or Oeko-Tex. (GOTS is more restrictive).  (Assigning an accurate number to the number of chemicals regulated or prohibited by either is difficult because many of the chemicals can have equally unsavory cousins synthesized easily which are technically outside of the regulations. This is a future blog post topic in itself!  )

This fact, that so little is regulated regarding fabrics in the US, is one of the main reasons why we  encourage people to ask for and insist on one of the three fabric certifications that we think are useful: GOTS, the Global Organic Textile Standard, or Oeko-Tex 100 or the Oeko-Tex Made In Green certifications. 

How can you determine if a fabric is safe? We’ll offer an easy-to-use guide in our next post.  Look for fabric that has the GOTS (Global Organic Textiles Standard) certification.  GOTS is the “gold standard” for textiles, although it has had recent severe problems with fraud that we will cover.   The second best (and only other) certification that we feel is worth its salt in fabrics is Oeko-Tex.  Either the Oeko-Tex 100 or the Oeko-Tex Made In Green certifications.   But beware, because Oeko-Tex will certify synthetics (yes use only Oeko-Tex 100 or Oeko-Tex Made In Green when you must use synthetics– hmmm , let me think about what those must use applications are – you can help ! !!).  

PS: for foam used in furniture, mattresses, etc.,  INSIST on either Oeko-Tex 100 or GOLS, the Global Organic Textile Standard.

Let’s protect this planet and the living beings on it by limiting the use of plastic based synthetic fabrics to instances where they are absolutely necessary. This does not include your furniture!

Woman wearing a facemask for blog explaining facemask fabric efficacy and safety.

Facemasks and Fabric

Woman wearing a facemask for a discussion on fabrics and materials most suitable and safe for facemasks.

There is much confusion about the efficacy of facemasks; and what fabric is the best choice for masks. 

Masks work in two ways: the fabric  filters (stops) the particles and the seal between the mask and the face also keeps  the virus from getting to your nose or mouth, direct routes to your respiratory tract. Please also keep in mind that, although most people instantly think that masks are primarily worn to protect the mask wearer; in controlling the Covid-19 pandemic, an equally important role for masks has been to protect others from the mask wearer.  Many people are suspected to be asymptomatic carriers, sick with the disease but unaware because they have no symptoms.

Masks turn out to be from good to very good protection, even loose-fitting ones made of any fabric, but let’s look at the debate and the evidence.  Then we can look at some of the good, better, best fabric claims and offer our recommendations. 

Confusion about mask efficacy  is in part due to the fact that there is little agreement how the coronavirus gets from an infected person to you. This is the “droplet versus aerosol” debate.

To understand that debate, we must first look at how small the coronavirus is.

Showing the coronavirus is smaller than microscopic size, meaning that we cannot even see the coronavirus with microscopes.
From Animated Stuff

The brown large object is one human hair, about 100 microns (one micron is one tenth of one Millimeter).  The red thing is a red blood cell, about .007 micron and the little, hard-to-see dot to the right of the red blood cell is the coronavirus, about .0005 micron.

The coronavirus is smaller than microscopic size, meaning that we cannot even see the coronavirus with microscopes.   We have to do fluid tests, usually blood tests.

Image showing coronavirus is smaller than bacteria.
From Animated Stuff

A closer view in the second picture above reveals the coronavirus, in red, the smallest object in the picture,  next to a bacteria, the oblong shaped object.  Bacteria are much larger than viruses. Bacteria are also alive, and can reproduce without a host. One of the fascinating things about virus is that they are not “alive” but are in a middle state between living and non-living. They need a host to survive.

In getting to that host, if you are a health care worker exposed to COVID19, or if you are in a situation where you know you will be in indoor or enclosed spaces  where air circulation is limited, you will want an N95 mask or equivalent;1 and you want to pay attention to WHO directions on achieving a proper mask seal, both negative (breathing out) and positive (breathing in).  

The 95 in N95, the US standard, means that 95% of particles of size .3 microns are stopped by the mask in tests.  But we know that the coronavirus is .1 microns, much smaller than the pores in even an N95 mask.  

The reason masks do stop the coronavirus is that the virus particles are not buzzing around solo, but are attached to water droplets. Water droplets are much larger than the holes in most masks:

The coronavirus particles attach to water droplets.

The transparent big blob in the illustration above is a droplet, which humans produce when they sneeze, cough, sing, even talk. The tiny red bits are the coronavirus which hitch a ride in and on the droplet.

With the major way that the virus gets from an infected person to you being via droplets; even a mask made out of not very tightly woven material that fits OK against your skin is a good bet to be good protection.  The water droplets are also much less likely to be breathed in via migration around a gap in the seal of the mask as a solo, tiny, lightweight virus particle.

So you can achieve a surprising degree of protection by using a mask, any mask.  This is especially true because part of the severity of Covid-19, should you be infected, is the amount of the virus, or the viral load,  that you receive.  So even filtering out 80% or 40% or 20% of the virus is better than  filtering out nothing.

There are other reasons why fabric stops particles,  involving Brownian motion, electrostatic charge, the hydrophilic or hydrophobic nature of the fabric,  and “anti-microbial” characteristics.  What are these factors?

Brownian motion:  You may remember if you took any high school physics. It’s the tendency of molecules not to stay still but to jiggle and constantly gyrate and move around.  The idea is that the virus particles do not take a direct route through fabric pores, but bump into and get destroyed by the fibers around the pores as they gyrate through in a less than straight line route.  That is, if they are aerosolized.

Electrostatic charge:  Think static electricity. Did you ever rub your slippers on the carpet and then touch your sibling to shock them?  Some fabrics like silk and some synthetics (do not use synthetics) maintain a charge and the assumption is that the charge helps kill the virus.

Hydrophilic and hydrophobic fabrics:  Hydrophilic fabrics attract water; hydrophobic repel them. We’ve seen both claimed as virus protectors.

Now, the real world just is not so simple, and some of the coronavirus does appear to be aerosolized. Not all coronavirus stay on and in the droplets.  There appears to be some aerosolization. So that means that, although  masks are a means of decreasing your risk of getting infected,  you still must wear masks in conjunction with social distancing and washing your hands frequently.

Remember that the intended major reason for wearing masks is to protect everybody else near you from you in case you are an asymptomatic carrier.  (This is still the major reason many organizations state – to protect others from asymptomatic carriers.)

The evidence is gathering that masks are good at protecting us all from infected mask wearers.  The statement that masks are good at stopping spread is supported by many recent events, such as the tracing of all of the passengers and crew  on a long airplane flight from China to Canada on January 22, 2020.   There were two infected Chinese people on the flight; but none of the other passengers on the very full flight  contracted the virus.  Researchers attributed this good result primarily to the fact that the two Chinese people were wearing masks the entire flight.  As the scientist wrote of this research, “… the lack of secondary cases after prolonged air travel exposure supports droplet transmission, not airborne, as the likely route of spread of the COVID-19.”2  

What fabric should I use?

There are many studies about good, better, best mask fabric, and they are worth reviewing briefly.

A Cambridge University Press published study reports that most any mask using any fabric is better than nothing; but some fabrics are better protection.3  They judged fabric using the direct shooting of .1MM sized particles at fabric; but they also looked at “fit factor, ” a means of studying the leakage around the edges of the mask.  Fit factor was their method of estimating the combined effects of filtration efficiency and “goodness of fit.”  The barometric pressure drop inside of the fabric and outside of the fabric are part of the equation.

But, despite the fact that some fabrics stop particles better, if those fabrics are not comfortable, don’t use them. A mask does not work if you take it off; and people take masks off if they are uncomfortable – scratchy, hot, or difficult to breathe through. A common complaint elastic rubbing sore spots around the ears.  (Again, don’t use plastic. Use fabric ties.)

From the Cambridge Study:  “Comfort should be an important factor in the material used to make a homemade mask. The pressure drop across a mask is a useful measure both of resistance to breathing and the potential for bypass of air around the filter seal. If respiratory protection is not capable of accommodating the breathing demands of the wearer, then the device will impose an extra breathing load on the wearer, which …may induce leakage owing to the increased negative pressure in the face mask.”

A study in The Netherlands4 concluded that improvised masks using tea cloths (the European term for kitchen towels, although the European brands are often flax linen and more closely woven than American chunky cotton kitchen towels) out-performed surgical masks over a three-hour period just because the volunteers were more likely to continue to wear them.

A Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center study used the .1 micron projection method of determining effectiveness as well. They found that that fabric whose weave is so tight that you have to breathe heavily was not a good choice. The heavy breathing becomes uncomfortable and you won’t wear the mask, plus it can induce infiltration around the edges.

The Wake Forest doctors recommend relatively closely woven cotton fabric, thread count 180 (or higher – others recommend up to 500, if breathable); with an inner layer of flannel5. And though that study does not address it, we would encourage you to use GOTS or Oeko-Tex 100 certified fabrics. (We’ll address our notions of fabric safety at the end of this blog post.)

The studies generally conclude that it’s more important that the mask is comfortable enough so that you continue wearing it than its particulate stopping rating or its ability to maintain a seal.

But it is useful to look at a graphic of the fabrics they judged.  We borrow this graphic  from Paddy Robertson of Smart Air.

Graphic showing effectiveness of fabric materials for facemasks.

Smart Air concludes that the following are the top five for face mask material. 

Effective fabric materials for facemasks.

Smart Air, which has researched, tested and thought about this issue a lot, recommends the five fabrics above for a combination of breathability and filtration effectiveness.

It’s probably best to use a fabric that stops much of the sunlight when held up to the light, but do not go overboard. A black-out fabric would make an uncomfortable  mask fabric that you most likely would not wear.  

We like the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center fabric conclusions because we agree that masks made from those fabrics  – a cotton “quilting fabric “combined with cotton flannel – will be comfortable and will fulfill the most important factor in choosing mask fabric and mask construction: comfort. If it is comfortable you will wear it.  “Quilting” fabric is usually 4 to 5 oz cotton sateen, one of the most popular fabrics used for bedlinens (sheeting fabric) or very similar.

And you won’t be tempted to keep adjusting it. Best not to touch your face!!

Here, we think that the Wake Forest recommendation is a good one since the flannel is very soft and will not abrade and become uncomfortable like denim and canvas may (the Smart Air fabric recommendation. But hey, if you have soft denim or canvas, you’re good!). 

Flannel is more hot, so an alternative mask using two layers of a closely woven cotton sateen would be a good alternative to have for hot days.  Sateen is the fabric that many bed sheets and pillowcases are made of.  They are also made of percale, jersey (types of fabric construction). Those are a little less tightly woven, but, here again, if it is what you have, anything is better than nothing.

Sheeting fabric made of linen – very finely woven linen using thin yarns (size n21 or thereabouts), works well.  Linen is a really lovely fabric next to skin:  cool in summer and warm in winter.

How about doubling or tripling the fabric in the mask?

Smart Air concluded from their experiments that doubling fabrics was NOT very effective in increasing filtration effectiveness; but many others, such as Wake Forest,  disagree with this conclusion. Studies which recommend doubling fabric include a University of Chicago study, which concluded that a combination of a cotton fabric and either silk or synthetic chiffon (don’t use synthetic chiffon – see below on Plastics) or another fabric with an electrostatic charge6, stops a lot of droplets.  They emphasize that fit is important, and note that large gaps between the face and the mask decrease the efficacy of the mask, by as much as half. Still better than no protection.


AND, PLEASE! Consider fabric safety (safety meaning free from residual chemicals of concern in the fabric). Third Party Certifications are tools to help in our decision making.

When buying facemasks or fabric for sewing your own, be sure to use fabrics and masks that are either GOTS certified (Global Organic Textile Standard) or Oeko-Tex 100 certified.   

Oeko-Tex 100 certification is your assurance that the mask and/or fabric is free from residual chemicals of concern. And of note – The Oeko-Tex organization is offering to test face masks for no licensing charge.  Please ask face mask sellers to get their masks tested.  

GOTS certification (Global Organic Textile Standard) provides assurances throughout the supply chain.

Solids are a safer bet than prints

In America we aren’t used to insisting on these certifications (three sources below), so, if you cannot find them, then, a solid fabric is better than any prints because Phthalates are in the vast majority of textile printing inks. Phthalates are extremely disturbing endocrine disruptors that are potent in a minuscule quantity – one in a billion. Phthalates are the class of 29 chemicals that have recently been banned in children’s toys and other children’s articles in the states of Vermont, Washington and California.   

Check for certifications. When you’re breathing through a face mask, you’ll want to be assured the fabric is safe – meaning that you are not breathing in chemicals of concern. 

On Plastic Fabrics

Due to the severity of the pandemic, and the speed at which we need to respond; masks for medical workers is one of the few uses of synthetic fiber fabric, woven or non-woven, that we would not complain about (for a short time).  

We recommend you use natural fiber fabrics for your mask, and insist that mask producers produce masks using natural fiber fabrics. 

Plastic is forever. It is not just single use plastic that is the problem. We need to stop using plastic.

We have, in this blog (meaning all of our postings since 2007), tried to point out the very unfortunate characteristics about synthetic fabric (polyester, nylon, acrylic, polyurethane, etc., etc., etc.) and recycled synthetic fiber or fabric such as recycled polyester.  More and equally important reasons for stopping the use of this plastic fabric have recently arisen: just search microplastic here on our blog or on the web for a start. We’ll blog about this issue more, shortly.

Cooper infused fabric masks

If you have not already seen copper infused or silver infused fabric for masks, you soon will. They are “anti-microbial,” anti-little buggies.  Please do not buy them. It is not clear if they are better protection in protecting you from coronavirus; but, even if they are, even extremely tiny bits of copper are extremely toxic to fish, crustaceans, and algae, which are 10 to 100 times more sensitive to the toxic effect of copper than are mammals . Excess copper in the soil creates a toxic environment for most micro-organisms such as bacteria. 

Although copper does have documented antimicrobial properties, it is a broad-spectrum antimicrobial – meaning that it kills the good guys as well as the bad. Many studies show that this is not necessarily the best approach to infection control. Kaiser Permanente issued a December 2006 memo with this bottom line: “Review of current scientific literature reveals no evidence that environmental surface finishes or fabrics containing antimicrobials assist in preventing infections.” In fact, their policy now is to prohibit any fabrics with antimicrobial finishes in their hospitals.


On respirators.  

Respirators are the full-face masks used in many industries, like spray painting to protect wearers from toxic vapors

Almost all respirators have one-way valves. This means that the do a good job of protecting the wearer, but that the one-way valve expels everything. They do not accomplish one of the two major reasons for mask wearing:  protecting others from the wearer – the other advantage of mask wearing is to protect the wearer. The protection of others from asymptomatic carriers is a major reason for mask wearing in controlling the pandemic.

These valves are now being banned in many cities.7

Mask Re-Use and Cleaning

Even non-woven masks such as N95s that cannot be washed can be used many times. They do not lose their effectiveness easily with use.  

Non-woven masks actually get more effective at particle stopping over time.  They should not be used once they are too hard to breathe through, not just after one use just because they are “single use” and may be contaminated. They can be soaked with hydrogen peroxide or, if not completely soiled, just left alone for a day and the virus will die. 

Smart Air addresses this issue of lifespan.


Where to buy safe and appropriate facemask material and/or already made masks using same

First a note:  There are a lot of “safe and/or green living blogs that list sources of “sustainable or green” face masks. Very few understand fabric safety issues. You are going to breathe through it for hours.  Get a safe one. Certified natural fiber fabric – certified to GOTS or Oeko-Tex 100.

There are actually quite a few sources of GOTS certified quilting fabric – which is often sateen or equally finely woven – that are prints.  Be sure the final fabric is certified GOTS, not just if organic cotton is used.  You can start with organic cotton, but, if the fabric is produced “conventionally,” that is, not according to the strict guidelines of GOTS, then that final fabric is most likely full of chemicals of concern.  As my sister says, fabric is like applesauce. You can start with organic apples, but if you add red dye #2, preservatives, emulsifiers, etc., you don’t get organic applesauce. 

Facemask fabric

Two Sisters Ecotextiles – we have 8 fabrics that work well for sewn facemasks – a variety of linen, cotton, flannels, muslin.

Organic Cotton Plus – fabric by the yard and facemask kits for home sewing. Organic Cotton Plus has GOTS certified prints from Harmony Arts and a few others. (We also offer one of Harmony’s GOTS certified prints.

Birch Fabrics

Finished masks

Soaring Heart Soaring Heart makes use GOTS certified fabric, not just organic cotton.



Alex and Nova We recommend only the GOTS certified solid masks. The printed masks are not GOTS or Oeko-Tex 100 certified.



Comfort + fiber + the appropriate weave + no further harm.

The most important characteristic of your mask and mask fabric is COMFORT so you’ll wear it and keep hands away from face.

Look for natural fibers with a tight weave. A layer of cotton sateen or flax linen sheeting fabric, combined with a layer of cotton flannel for warmer weather;  or  two layers of cotton sateen (180 thread count and above, which is most cotton sateen used for bed linens) for cooler weather are both good combinations. 

And, we would also like to encourage you to prioritize asking for GOTS or Oeko-Tex 100 certified fabrics and masks so that they will do not further harm to you, us and the planet.either GOTS certified (Global Organic Textile Standard) or Oeko-Tex 100 certified fabric and/or masks is best.

Failing finding the certifications, use white or off-white colors, not prints. Do not use a print which is not GOTS or Oeko-Tex 100 certified.

And yet, any mask using any fabric is better than no mask. Let’s stop the spread.


 1 As 3M, an N95 producer,  states on its webpage, “it is reasonable to consider China KN95, AS/NZ P2, Korea 1st Class, and Japan DS FFRs as “equivalent” to US NIOSH N95 and European FFP2 respirators, for filtering non-oil-based particles such as those resulting.  from wildfires, PM 2.5 air pollution, volcanic eruptions, or bioaerosols.

2 “Lack of COVID-19 transmission on an international flight,” Kevin L. Schwartz, Michelle Murti, Michael Finkelstein, Jerome A. Leis, Alanna Fitzgerald-Husek, Laura Bourns, Hamidah Meghani, Andrea Saunders, Vanessa Allen and Barbara Yaffe; CMAJ April 14, 2020 192 (15) E410; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.75015

3 https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/disaster-medicine-and-public-health-preparedness/article/testing-the-efficacy-of-homemade-masks-would-they-protect-in-an-influenza-pandemic/0921A05A69A9419C862FA2F35F819D55  The Cambridge University Press study is much quoted, but it looks only at what material stops virus sized particulates from being exhaled directly through the fabric, too. It is primarily a study of what fabric to use in a mask to stop you from infecting others, should you be a symptom free carrier. 

4 Professional and home-made face masks reduce exposure to respiratory infections among the general population.   van der Sande M, Teunis P, Sabel R.   PLoS One. 2008 Jul 9; 3(7):e2618.

5 Wake Forest Medical Center study https://newsroom.wakehealth.edu/News-Releases/2020/04/Testing-Shows-Type-of-Cloth-Used-in-Homemade-Masks-Makes-a-Difference

 6 When you rub the fabric, do you create static electricity?

 7 Fast Company: https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/medical/what-is-a-mask-valve-and-why-are-cities-banning-them/ar-BB13jGNN

Two Sisters Ecotextiles is our online store offering fabric by the yard.

DIY Face Masks

O Ecotextiles (and Two Sisters Ecotextiles)

Hello All;

We have not been posting regularly for the last year, but we will be prioritizing posting again now.

Numerous workrooms have contacted us to ask questions about making face masks – for medical professionals primarily. (According to CDC Guidelines, if you are not a medical professional or if you are not already infected, social distancing is preferable to wearing a face mask. In any case, it is the medical professionals who really need and still cannot get face masks.)

In making those masks, there are two major considerations so that we produce masks that do NOT do more harm than good:

  1. – The seals everywhere are adjustable and as tight as possible; and
  2. – The fabric used  will stop at least a goodly percentage most of the virus from passing through. The coronavirus is 120NM in diameter.  A NM is one-billionth of a meter. The 95 in the N95 masks means that the fabric prevents 95% of the virus from passing through.

There is a Million Mask project to recruit home sewers to make masks from kits provided by the Provident Health System. Although Providence says the fabric is “not available commercially,” they most likely mean not available retail. 

An epidemiologist with King County Health of Washington State believes that Providence undertook this project because they could not get N95 masks for front line medical workers and because these masks were better than nothing – meaning they had fabric that would stop a majority of the virus from passing through even if the seals were not optimal.

N95 masks – still largely unavailable because they’re sold out. 3M, the producer is doing all they can.

The Million Mask Challenge project by the Providence Health System has blueprints for making fabric facemasks and a video on sewing the kits using the material they mail out.

If you want to receive information on fabric and other sources of materials, please email service@twosistersecotextiles.com  or stay tuned as we’ll be writing another post about this topic soon.

If you choose to make these masks or shields, and you can use safe materials, that is preferable, of course – such as using GOTS certified for the fabric and GOLS certified or Oeko-Tex 100 certified foam strips for the foam – but we are dispensing with material safety considerations because of the extremely short timeline we are all under.

Leigh Anne and Patty

This story was originally published by Yale Environment 360 (Katz, Cheryl, “Piling Up: How China’s Ban in Importing Waste has Stalled Global Recycling”, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, March 7, 2019).  We think it’s quite important so we’re reprinting it here:

It has been a year since China jammed the works of recycling programs around the world by essentially shutting down what had been the industry’s biggest market. China’s National Sword policy, enacted in January 2018, banned the import of most plastics  and other materials headed for that nation’s recycling processors, which had handled nearly half of the world’s recyclable waste for the past quarter century. The move was an effort to halt a deluge of soiled and contaminated materials that was overwhelming Chinese processing facilities and leaving the country with yet another environmental problem—and this one not of its own making.

In the year since, China’s plastic imports have plummeted by 99 percent, leading to a major global shift in where and how materials tossed in the recycling bin are being processed. While the glut of plastics is the main concern, China’s imports of mixed paper have also dropped by a third. Recycled aluminum and glass are less affected by the ban.

Globally, more plastics are now ending up in landfills, incinerators, or likely littering the environment as rising costs to haul away recyclable materials increasingly render the practice unprofitable. In England, more than half a million more tons of plastics and other household garbage were burned last year. Australia’s recycling industry is facing a crisis as the country struggles to handle the 1.3 million-ton stockpile of recyclable waste it had previously shipped to China.

Across the United States, local governments and recycling processors are scrambling to find new markets. Communities from Douglas County, Oregon, to Hancock, Maine, have curtailed collections or halted their recycling programs entirely, which means that many residents are simply tossing plastic and paper into the trash. Some places, like Minneapolis, have stopped accepting black plastics and rigid No. 6 plastics like disposable cups. Others, like Philadelphia, are now burning the bulk of their recyclables  at a waste-to-energy plant, raising concerns about air pollution.

Even before China’s ban, only 9 percent of discarded plastic was being recycled, while 12 percent was burned. The rest was buried in landfills or simply dumped and left to wash into rivers and oceans. Without China to process plastic bottles, packaging, and food containers—not to mention industrial and other plastic waste—the already massive waste problem posed by our throwaway culture will be exacerbated, experts say. The planet’s load of nearly indestructible plastics—more than 8 billion tons have been produced worldwide over the past six decades—continues to grow.

“Already, we’ve been seeing evidence in the past year of the accumulation of plastic waste in countries that are dependent on exporting,” says the University of Georgia’s Amy Brooks, a PhD student in engineering and lead author of a recent study on the impact of China’s import ban. “We’ve seen increased cost to consumers, closure of recycling facilities, and ultimately decreased plastic waste diversion.”

The recycling crisis triggered by China’s ban could have an upside, experts say, if it leads to better solutions for managing the world’s waste, such as expanding processing capacities in North America and Europe, and spurring manufacturers to make their products more easily recyclable. Above all, experts say it should be a wake-up call to the world on the need to sharply cut down on single-use plastics.

Over the coming decade, as many as 111 million tons of plastics will have to find a new place to be processed or otherwise disposed of as a result of China’s ban, according to Brooks and University of Georgia engineering professor Jenna Jambeck. However, the places trying to take up some of the slack in 2018 tended to be lower-income countries, primarily in Southeast Asia, many of which lack the infrastructure to properly handle recyclables. Many of those countries were quickly overwhelmed by the volume and have also now cut back on imports.

Prior to China’s ban, 95 percent of the plastics collected for recycling in the European Union and 70 percent in the US were sold and shipped to Chinese processors. There, they were turned into forms to be repurposed by plastic manufacturers. Favorable rates for shipping in cargo vessels that carried Chinese consumer goods abroad and would otherwise return to China empty, coupled with the country’s low labor costs and high demand for recycled materials, made the practice profitable.

“Everyone was sending their materials to China because their contamination standard was low and their pricing was very competitive,” says Johnny Duong, acting chief operating officer of California Waste Solutions, which handles recycling for Oakland and San Jose. Like most municipal recycling programs, those cities contract with Duong’s company to collect and sort recyclable waste at its materials recovery facility, where they are baled and sent to end-market processors. Before the ban, Duong says, his company sold around 70 percent of its recyclables to China. Now that has fallen to near zero.

China’s action came after many recycling programs had transitioned from requiring consumers to separate paper, plastics, cans, and bottles to today’s more common “single stream,” where it all goes into the same blue bin. As a result, contamination from food and waste has risen, leaving significant amounts unusable. In addition, plastic packaging has become increasingly complex, with colors, additives, and multilayer, mixed compositions making it ever more difficult to recycle. China has now cut off imports of all but the cleanest and highest-grade materials — imposing a 99.5 percent purity standard that most exporters find all but impossible to meet.

“All recyclable plastics from municipal recycling programs have been pretty much banned,” says Anne Germain, vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for the US trade group National Waste and Recycling Association. “It’s had a tremendous impact. Costs associated with recycling are up, revenue associated with recycling is down. And that’s not turning around in the next few weeks.”

The US and Europe, where many cities have long-standing recycling collection programs, have been especially hard hit. Decades of reliance on China had stifled development of domestic markets and infrastructure. “There are just not very easy or cost-effective options for dealing with it now,” says Brooks. “So if nothing is done to ensure efficient management of plastic waste, the cost-effective option is to send it to landfills or incineration.”

In the US, small town and rural recycling operations have been hit the hardest. While most continue to operate, rising costs and falling incomes are forcing some, like the one in Kingsport, Tennessee, to shut down. Others, as in Phenix City, Alabama, have stopped accepting all plastics, while places like Deltona, Florida, have suspended curbside pickup. Residents in municipalities like these now must travel to collection points, sometimes in distant locations, if they want to recycle. Inevitably, some people just toss their recyclables in the trash instead.

Most larger cities—such as New York, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon—have been able to either find alternative markets or improve and expand their municipal operations to process higher-quality and more marketable materials. But many have had to make changes, including dropping some harder-to-recycle materials from their programs. Sacramento, California, for instance, halted collection of plastics labeled No. 4 through 7 for several months last year at the city waste operator’s request. Residents were told to discard those items in their household garbage.

“That was a real eye opener for a lot of folks who love to feel good about putting their recycling in their blue bin and then it magically turns into something else,” says Erin Treadwell, community outreach manager for Sacramento Public Works. “We wish it was that easy.” Collection there resumed in November after a public education campaign on how households should clean and sort their recyclables.

In Philadelphia last year, when the city’s waste contractor demanded higher fees for collecting and processing recycled materials, the city sent half its recyclables to a waste-to-energy plant, where they were burned to generate electricity; the rest went to an interim contractor.

Incineration is on the rise in parts of Europe, as well. In England, nearly 11 million tons of waste were burned at waste-to-energy plants last year, up 665,000 tons from the previous fiscal year. The facilities are designed to contain emissions, and the practice has sparked strong reactions both for and against among environmentalists and scientists. However, a recent study by the nonprofit Zero Waste Europe found that even state-of-the-art incinerators can emit dioxins and other harmful pollutants.

European nations that had exported most of their recyclables to China have faced growing piles of low-quality plastic scrap, causing “a congestion of the whole system,” says Chaim Waibel, adviser for the industry association Plastics Recyclers Europe. The displaced European plastic was mostly diverted to Indonesia, Turkey, India, Malaysia, and Vietnam, Waibel says.

Simon Ellin, CEO of the Recycling Association, a UK industry group, said these countries have struggled to cope with the volume displaced by the Chinese ban and were beginning to impose their own import restrictions.

Whether China’s ban leads to increased plastic pollution in the environment remains to be seen. “The plastic is now getting diverted to countries with a high risk of improper management and high leakage rates,” says Roland Geyer, an industrial ecology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management and lead author of a recent study on the ultimate fate of disposed plastics. Still, China, with its high volume of imports, had been the source of more than a quarter of the world’s mismanaged waste, Jambeck says. So if proper alternatives are found, plastic pollution could actually decrease.

Some options are beginning to emerge. Several US materials recovery facilities are expanding operations, upgrading equipment, and adding workers to improve sorting and reduce contamination so that the materials are acceptable to more discerning buyers. Duong’s Oakland-based company—which handles paper, plastics, and some metals—has modified its equipment and devised better ways of separating materials. The company has developed new markets domestically and in places like South Korea, Indonesia, and India.

And displaced Chinese processors have announced plans to open new US processing plants in Orangeburg, South Carolina, and Huntsville, Alabama. The companies will shred or pelletize things like plastic food containers to make products such as artificial plants and hangers.

“There is the expectation that we’ll be able to expand domestic processing,” says Germain. “That’s the good news. [But] you don’t build a new facility overnight.”

A variety of new policies aimed at reducing plastic waste are also in the works. The European Parliament recently approved a ban on single-use plastics, including plastic cutlery, straws, and drink-stirrers. Several North American cities, including Seattle and Vancouver, and companies like Starbucks and American Airlines have taken similar actions. And many places around the world now restrict plastic shopping bags.

“Reducing the amount of waste we generate in the first place is the most important thing we can do,” says Lance Klug, information officer for California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. The agency has been working with manufacturers for the past decade to reduce the discarded packaging that makes up about a quarter of what’s in the state’s landfills, he says, adding, “We’re trying to get industry more involved in the end-of-life disposition of their products.”

Britain is planning to tax manufacturers of plastic packaging with less than 30 percent recycled materials. And Norway recently adopted a system in which makers of single-use plastic bottles pay an “environmental levy” that declines as the return rate for their products rises. The bottles must be designed for easy recycling, with no toxic additives, only clear or blue color, and water-soluble labels.

One year on, China’s National Sword policy is proving to be double-edged—both sparking chaos and drawing overdue attention to the way the world deals with its waste.

“The collect-sort-export model, with some domestic manufacturing, worked for us for a long time when markets for recycled materials were good, particularly in China,” says Klug. “But that’s no longer the case, and it’s probably never going to be the case again.”




“I believe we stand at a turning point in history. For the first time, humans are no longer just affected by weather cycles, we are affecting those cycles—and suffering the consequences of doing so.”

Patricia Espinosa,  UN Climate Change Executive Secretary

Climate change is without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most pressing problems of the 21st century. It affects everything, from the air we breathe, to the water we drink, to the food we grow. And considering that natural fibers are the backbone of the textile industry, and climate change affects the growth and production of these natural fibers, it is only right that the textile industry makes this major global issue a priority.

Cotton production alone leaves a huge impact on the environment. According to Textile Today, a kilogram of cotton (the equivalent of one pair of jeans and one t-shirt) can take more than 20,000 liters of water to produce. Additionally, only 2.4% of the world’s crop land has cotton planted in it, yet it accounts for 24% of global sales of insecticide.

It’s not just the production of natural fibers that will affect the textile and apparel industry – the industry is known for being one of the most polluting industries of the modern world. The carbon footprint left behind by major textile operations is huge, and carbon is released throughout the supply chain,producing 1.3 billion tons of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year. Over 60% of textiles are used in the clothing industry and a large proportions of clothing manufacturing occurs in China and India, countries which rely on coal-fueled power plants, increasing the footprint of each garment. One way the industry can make positive changes is by switching to renewable energy, such as solar or wind power. This would drastically reduce the amount of energy consumed by factories and improve sustainability around the world.

“The apparel sector is one where there’s a lot of uncertainty about what exactly the impacts are,” said Nate Aden, senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, at a panel discussion on climate change in NYC.  “The best number we have now is about five percent of [global] greenhouse gas emissions [come from] the textile industry. To give you some sense of perspective, that’s about equivalent to the impact from the aviation sector, so all the planes flying in the world. Or in country terms, that’s about equal to Russia. So it’s pretty significant.”[1]

Fashion is one area in which consumerism has rapidly grown in recent years. Fast fashion has become more prevalent; clothing is produced on shorter timeframes with new designs appearing every few weeks to satisfy demand for the latest trends, but with this comes increased consumption and more waste. It has been estimated that there are 20 new garments manufactured per person each year[2] and we are buying 60% more than we were in 2000. Each garment is worn less before being disposed of and this shorter lifespan means higher relative manufacturing emissions.  Clothing costs have risen slower than those of other consumer goods, increasing their affordability, and there will be continued growth as the middle class expands and purchases increase to match this demographic shift. This combination of factors is expected to result in a tripling of resource consumption by 2050 (compared to 2000).

Synthetic fibers have seen rapid production growth since their introduction in the second half of the twentieth century. Polyester is now the most commonly used fabric in clothing, having overtaken cotton early in the twenty-first century. For polyester and other synthetic materials, the emissions for production are much higher as they are produced from fossil fuels such as crude oil. In 2015, production of polyester for textiles use results in more than 706 billion kg of CO2e. The authors of the study estimate a single polyester t-shirt has emissions of 5.5 kg CO2e, compared with 2.1 kg CO2e for one made from cotton. However cotton is a thirsty crop and its production has greater impacts on land and water.

With limited recycling options to recover reusable fibres, almost 60% of all clothing produced is disposed of within a year of production (ending in landfill or incineration)[3]. To put that into context, that is one rubbish truck per second to landfill[4]. It has been estimated that less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled within the clothing industry, with around 13% recycled for use in other areas[5].

There is also a push to return to slow fashion, with higher quality garments with longer product life and utilization. The recent report from the Ellen Macarthur Foundation[6] advocates for a shift to a circular economy, where the value of products and materials is maintained for as long as possible and waste and resource use is minimized. This, alongside efforts to minimize negative environmental impacts from production, will create a more sustainable industry. For suggestions such as clothing rentals, and increased durability allowing reuse and resale, a shift in consumer behavior and attitude is required for them to gain traction.

A recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation raised an alarm, pointing to an estimated USD 500 billion value lost every year due to clothing that is “barely worn and rarely recycled,” and which could lead to the industry accounting for a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.

Regarding cotton production, 1 kg of cotton production (equivalent to a pair of jeans and a t-shirt) can require nearly 5,500 gallons of water, 73% of global cotton harvest comes from irrigated land, 2.4% of the word’s crop land is planted with cotton and yet it accounts for 24% of sales 11% of insecticid and pesticides.(7)

The Aral Sea which was world’s fourth largest inland water lake has been reduced to 15% of its original size as a result of irrigation to cotton industry:

Aral Sea.jpg

     Source:  NASA 2010

Another major polluting subsector of the textile supply chain is dyeing operations. All synthetic dyes and chemicals are hazardous to the environment. The wastewater from the dyeing industry is considered to be the most polluting of all given its volume and composition. Up to 200,000 tons of dyes are expelled in the form of effluent from dyeing and finishing operations due to inefficient processes.(8)  It is estimated that 20% of industrial water pollution globally is attributable to the dyeing and treatment of textiles.(9)

(1)   Bauck, W., “The Fashion Industry Emits as much Greenhouse Gas as All of Russia”,  Sept.22, 2017 HTTPS://FASHIONISTA.COM/2017/09/FASHION-INDUSTRY-GREENHOUSE-GAS-CLIMATE-CHANGE-SUSTAINABILITY

(2) Kirchain, R., Olivetti, E., Reed Miller, T. & Greene, S. Sustainable Apparel Materials (Materials Systems Laboratory, 2015).

[3] Remy, N., Speelman, E. & Swartz, S. Style That’s Sustainable: A New Fast-Fashion Formula (McKinsey&Company, accessed 11 December 2017).

[4] A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

(7) Patwary, Sarif Ullah, Masters thesis, Kansas State University, “Global climate change   and the textile industry”, March 22, 2016

(8) Ibid.

(9) Ellen Macarthur Foundation, “A New Textiles Economy Summary of Findings”; https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications/a-new-textiles-economy-redesigning-fashions-future.


O Ecotextiles (and Two Sisters Ecotextiles)

Researchers have come to a greater understanding of the multiple factors that influence obesity, which of course include our diet, but also our hormones, bio-individuality,  epigenetics and increasingly, the environment.  While lack of activity, poor diet, and genetics are frequently blamed for this problem, could there be other factors in the environment affecting our weight gain?

Many in the medical and exercise physiology communities remain wedded to poor diet and lack of exercise as the sole causes of obesity. However, researchers are gathering convincing evidence of chemical “obesogens”—dietary, pharmaceutical, and industrial compounds that may alter metabolic processes and predispose some people to gain weight.   Research in recent years has shown that an increase of chemicals in our diet , called obesogens, could be contributing to the obesity epidemic we are now facing.

Obesogens are a category of endocrine disruptors — chemicals that can interfere with your hormones. (1)


The Environmental Health Policy Institute (EHPI) states that certain endocrine disrupting chemicals affect how the body creates and stores fat, and which could be contributing to the current obesity  epidemic. There is a  growing list of obesogens: hidden chemicals that might be making your family gain unintended weight through a variety of means. Low doses of these endocrine disruptors can actually have a worse effects than high doses. So what are the actions and effects of these obesogens?

Some endocrine disruptors exert their effects by activating estrogen receptors, which can cause harmful effects in both women and men. Estrogen receptors are thought to be “promiscuous,” meaning that they will bind to anything that looks even remotely like an estrogen.  Some obesogens have not only been linked to obesity, but also to birth defects, premature puberty in girls, demasculinization in men, breast cancer and other disorders.

Unfortunately, many of these effects happen in the womb. For example, when pregnant women are exposed to these chemicals, their child’s risk of becoming obese later in life may increase. Obesity has risen steadily in the United States over the past 150 years, with a marked uptick in recent decades. In the United States today more than 35% of adults as well as 17% of children aged 2–19 years are obese.(2) Obesity plagues people not just in the United States but worldwide, including, increasingly, developing countries.  Even animals—pets, laboratory animals, and urban rats—have experienced increases in average body weight over the past several decades,(3) trends not necessarily explained by diet and exercise. In the words of Robert H. Lustig, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, “[E]ven those at the lower end of the BMI [body mass index] curve are gaining weight. Whatever is happening is happening to everyone, suggesting an environmental trigger.”

The idea that chemicals in the environment could be contributing to the obesity epidemic is often credited to an article by Paula Baillie-Hamilton, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2002.(4) Her article presented evidence from earlier toxicologic studies published as far back as the 1970s in which low-dose chemical exposures were associated with weight gain in experimental animals. At the time, however, the original researchers did not focus on the implications of the observed weight gains.

The role of environmental chemicals in obesity has garnered increased attention in academic and policy spheres, and was recently acknowledged by the Presidential Task Force on Childhood Obesity and the National Institutesof Health (NIH) Strategic Plan for Obesity Research. “Over the past ten years, and especially the past five years, there’s been a flurry of new data,” says Kristina Thayer, director of the Office of Health Assessment and Translation at the National Toxicology Program (NTP). “There are many studies in both humans and animals. The NTP found real biological plausibility.” In 2011 the NIH launched a 3-year effort to fund research exploring the role of environmental chemical exposures in obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and metabolic syndrome.(5)

The main role of fat cells is to store energy and release it when needed. Scientists also now know that fat tissue acts as an endocrine organ, releasing hormones related to appetite and metabolism. Research to date suggests different obesogenic compounds may have different mechanisms of action, some affecting the number of fat cells, others the size of fat cells, and still others the hormones that affect appetite, satiety, food preferences, and energy metabolism. Some obesogenic effects may pass on to later generations through epigenetic changes, heritable modifications to DNA and histone proteins that affect when and how genes are expressed in cells, without altering the actual genetic code.

Bruce Blumberg, a biology professor at the University of California, Irvine, coined the term “obesogen” in 2006 when he discovered that tin-based compounds known as organotins predisposed laboratory mice to gain weight.(6) “If you give tributyltin [TBT] to pregnant mice, their offspring are heavier than those not exposed,” he says. “We’ve altered the physiology of these offspring, so even if they eat normal food, they get slightly fatter.” (7)


Human exposure and health-effect data are relatively rare for organotins, but studies have documented the presence of these compounds in human blood, milk, and liver samples. Although phased out as a biocide and marine antifouling agent, TBT is still used as a wood preservative and, along with dibutyltin, as a stabilizer in polyvinyl chloride; it pollutes many waterways and contaminates seafood.

Animal studies have also implicated another suspected obesogen: bisphenol A (BPA), which is found in medical devices, in the lining of some canned foods, and in cash register receipts – as well as in polyester fabrics. (8) “BPA reduces the number of fat cells but programs them to incorporate more fat, so there are fewer but very large fat cells,” explains University of Missouri biology professor Frederick vom Saal, who has studied BPA for the past 15 years.“In animals, BPA exposure is producing in animals the kind of outcomes that we see in humans born light at birth: an increase in abdominal fat and glucose intolerance.”(9)

Still another widespread obesogen is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a potential endocrine disruptor. “Pretty much everyone in the U.S. has it in their blood, kids having higher levels than adults, probably because of their habits. They crawl on carpets, on furniture, and put things in their mouth more often,” explains NIEHS biologist Suzanne Fenton. PFOA is a surfactant used for reduction of friction, and it is also used in nonstick cookware (i.e., Teflon), Gore-Tex™ waterproof clothing, Scotchgard™ stain repellent on carpeting, mattresses, and microwavable food items. In 2005 DuPont settled a class-action lawsuit for $107.6 million after its factory was found to have tainted  Parkersburg, WV  drinking water supplies with PFOA. (10)

Another obesogen is phthalates.  Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastics soft and flexible.  They are found in various products, including food containers, toys, beauty products, pharmaceuticals, shower curtains and paint.  They are in the vast majority of textile printing inks. These chemicals can easily leach out of plastics and contaminate foods, the water supply and even the very air we breathe.

A Swedish study found that children can absorb airborne phthalates from plastic floor material through the skin and respiratory tract.  In a study by the CDC, most Americans tested positive for phthalate metabolites in their urine (11).  Like BPA, phthalates are endocrine disruptors, affecting the hormonal balance in your body.

Phthalates may be contributing to increased susceptibility to weight gain by affecting hormone receptors called PPARs, which are involved in metabolism.  Studies in humans have shown that phthalate levels in the body are associated with obesity, increased waist circumference and insulin resistance.

t appears that men are particularly susceptible. Studies show that phthalate exposure in the womb leads to genital malformations, undescended testicles and low testosterone levels.

Many of these obesogens – pesticides, BPA, PFOAs, Phthalates, TBTi, PCBs – are used regularly in textile production and they remain residual in the fabrics.  Phthalates were found in all the garments tested by Greenpeace (Greenpeace bought a range of clothing from 19 countries around the world) from 1.4 mg/kg to 200,000 mg/kg – or more than 20% of the weight of the sample.(12)

Another good reason to seek out minimally Oeko-Tex 100 fabric, or, better, GOTS certified fabric.

[1] Janesick, AS, Blumberg B:   “Obesogens: an emerging threat to public health”, Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2016 May;214(5):559-65. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2016.01.182. Epub 2016 Jan 29.

(2) Ogden CL, et al. Prevalence of obesity and trends in body mass index among US children and adolescents, 1999–2010. JAMA.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jama.2012.40 [online 17 Jan 2012]

(3) Klimentidis YC, et al. Canaries in the coal mine: a cross-species analysis of the plurality of obesity epidemics. Proc R Soc Biol Sci. 2011;278(1712):1626–1632.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2010.1890.

(4) Baillie-Hamilton, PF, “Chemical toxins: a hypotheses to explain the global obesity epidemic”, J Althern Complement Med. 2002; 8(2): 185-192. http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/107555302317371479

(5) National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “Obesogens”, https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/obesity/obesogens/index.cfm

(6)  Blumberg, B, Grun, F; “Environmental obesogens:  organotins and endocrine disruption vis nuclear receptor signaling”; Endocrinol. 2006; 147(6): S50-S55; http://dx.doi.org/10.1210/en.2005-1129

(7) Ibid.

(8) Somm E, et al. “Perinatal  bisphenol A alters adipogenesis in the rat”; Environ Health Perspect. 2009; 117(10): 1549-1555. http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.11342

(9) Philpott, T; “Can BPA make you fat?” Mother Jones, May, 2012.

(10) DuPont Reaches Settlement with Class Action Group (press release).  Wilmington, DC and Parkersburg WV:  Dupont (2 Sept 2004). http://www2.dupont.com/Media_Center/en_US/news_releases/2004/nr09_09_04.html

(11) B.C. Blount et al; “Levels of seven urinary phthalate  metabolites in a human reference population”, Environ Health Perspect; 2000 Oct, 108(10): 978-982.

(12)  Pedersen, H; Hartmann, J, “Toxic Textiles by Disney”; Greenpeace; Brussels, April 2004






O Ecotextiles (and Two Sisters Ecotextiles)

A company that sells fabric on line has a post about why they don’t offer Oeko-Tex certification.  Their post is woefully incorrect.

We do not name the company, but call it FabricsellerA. Their post, titled,   Why Oeko-Tex certification is NOT Relevant to American Made Fabrics,  (the entirety of which you can read below at the end of this post) claims that, in America, for American-made fabrics, Oeko-Tex is irrelevant because the US government, primarily in the form of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)   ensures that products made in the USA

“ have met the most stringent, comprehensive American health and safety standards.”  …”which makes them even more rigorous than the OEKO-TEX test criteria. This is why OEKO-TEX certification is not required in the United States. These strict measures guarantee the highest levels of safety, not only for the consumers who use the fabrics, but also for the health and safety of those who make them, and environmental protection…In addition to (our) ongoing mission and commitment to bringing you safe, high-quality products for your use, our fabrics are, of course, CPSIA Compliant. They meet the highest standards of health and safety in the world.”

FabricsellerA is most thoroughly incorrect.

We find that many people really want to believe that America’s product safety and toxicity standards are the most stringent in the world. This is very, very far from the truth. Our protections from exposure to toxic chemicals is completely inadequate.

First we will give you a  visual of just a few of the thousands of chemicals regularly used in textile production with unsavory to scary toxicity profiles, and how the US government and the Oeko-Tex standard compare in protecting us.  Then we will recount in detail how the CPSC,  OSHA, and the EPA  fail to protect us as well as Oeko-Tex does. It is not even close.

First the visual:


Chemical or Chemical Class

Does Oeko-Tex limit or prohibit? Does the US Government limit or prohibit?
·       All flame retardants Yes, prohibited No
·       Carcinogenic and allergy-inducing dyes Yes No
·       Chlorinated phenols Yes No
·       Chloro-organic benzenes and toluenes Yes No
Heavy metals:  Lead Yes YES, but limit is 100 times weaker than Oeko-Tex
Heavy metals:  Antimony Yes No
Heavy metals:  Cadmium Yes No
Heavy metals:  Arsenic Yes No
·       Organotin compounds (TBT and DBT) Yes No
·       Formaldehyde Yes No
Pthalates, like BPA Yes, the entire class of many chemicals No, not in fabric.  It does regulate 5 chemicals in this huge class but not in fabric – only in toys and child care products like teething rings.

There are lots more chemicals limited by Oeko-Tex which are not regulated by the US government.  We’ve tried to count, but many of the limits apply to whole classes of chemicals, so we would be under-reporting, but our count ignoring classes (which would greatly increase the number) is 300.

The grand total of chemicals prohibited or limited by the CPSC is two: lead and eight forms of phthalates, which by our count methodology would count as one.

But for a closer examination about why we may want to insist on Oeko-Tex (or, better yet, GOTS, the Global Organic Textile Standard) certification, because of the government failing at this job, let’s start with a look at the CPSC.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)is the agency that regulates the sale and manufacture of consumer products, and ultimately certifies a fabric as compliant and approved for sale in the United States, in accordance with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).

Before 2014, CPSC regulated only one chemical of the extremely long list of unsavory and toxic chemicals used in the process of fabric production which can, and often do, remain in fabric:  lead.  In 2014 Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement act, which banned three chemicals in the class of phthalates (DEHP, DBP, and BBP) and suggest an expert panel study the banning of two others. In 2017 the panel did ban five others, concluding the ten year effort to ban a small subset of phthalates. (Other very toxic phthalates, including BPA, and the chemical cousins used as substitutes for BPA, are not banned by the feds. Eleven states have bans for baby bottles, and similar products.)

Children’s clothing cannot contain more than 100 parts per million.  Oeko Tex restricts lead to 1 part per million; and Oeko-Tex restricts lead from all fabrics, not just in children’s clothing.

The CPSC does regulate eight phthalates in children’s toys and child care items — like teething rings — but not in fabric in children’s clothes. Children’s toys and care items cannot contain concentrations of more than 0.1% of diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP), dinpentyl phthalate (DPENP), dinhexyl phthalate (DHEXP), or dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP).  These kinds of chemicals are usually used to soften plastic and make it more pliable. Exposure to these chemicals by children has been linked with health problems like hormone disruption and damage to reproductive development, among other serious issues.

The CPSIA’s permanent prohibition concerning DEHP, DBP, and BBP remains in effect. Thus, effective April 25, 2018, any children’s toy or child care article that contains concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of the following phthalates is prohibited:

  • di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP),
  • dibutyl phthalate (DBP),
  • benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP),
  • diisononyl phthalate (DINP),
  • diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP),
  • di-n-pentyl phthalate (DPENP),
  • di-n-hexyl phthalate (DHEXP), and
  • dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP).

Greenpeace has done work that points out the very large concentrations of phthalates in many popular Disney children’s clothes.  You can read Leigh’s blog on this issue at https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/?s=Toxic+textiles+

The manufacturers may need to limit the few pthalates above, but phthalates are a very large class of chemicals and chemical cousins which are unsavory and can be used interchangeably in their place.

Now on to OSHA. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)is a part of the US Department of Labor.  OSHA is concerned with worker safety, not product safety. OSHA actually requires that any polyester or nylon fabric or any natural fiber fabric have a flame retardant treatment so as not to cause a burn on an employee’s skin. To claim that applying a flame retardant finish adheres to the highest safety standards for consumers or workers is woefully incorrect. The FR chemical profiles are so unsavory that you would never choose to bring them into your home.

We have written about FR chemicals at length in our blog, but allow us to remind you briefly:  To make an intrinsically flame retardant synthetic fiber fabric,  the most common method is to add  brominated flame retardants (BFR’s) to the polymer during the melt phase.     BFR’s are a huge chemical class.  Brominated flame retardants are persistent, accumulate in the food chain, and toxic to both humans and the environment and are suspected of causing neurobehavioral effects, endocrine disruption, cancer and other degenerative diseases.

I’d like to nominate flame retardant chemicals used in our furniture, fabrics and baby products – as well as a host of other products – as being in the running for the new asbestos.  These chemicals are called halogenated flame retardants, such as Polybrominated diphenyl ethers – commonly known as PBDE’s.  Women in North America have 10 to 40 times the levels of the PBDEs in their breast milk, as do women in Europe or in Asia. And these chemicals pass through the placenta and are found in infants at birth, making a double dose of toxins for young children when they are most vulnerable.  When tested in animals, fire retardant chemicals, even at very low doses, can cause endocrine disruption, thyroid disorders, cancer, and developmental, reproductive, and neurological problems such as learning impairment and attention deficit disorder.   In humans, these chemicals are associated with reduced IQ in children, reduced fertility; thyroid impacts, undescended testicles in infants (leading to a higher cancer risk), and decreases in sperm quality and function. Ongoing studies are beginning to show a connection between these chemicals and autism in children.  Pregnant women have the biggest cause for concern because animal studies show negative impacts on brain development of offspring when mothers are exposed during pregnancy. And bioaccumulating PBDEs can stay in our bodies for more than a decade.

A study published last week in the Environmental Health Perspectives  points to California’s unique furniture flammability standard called Technical Bulletin 117, or TB117, as the major reason for high fire retardant levels in California. The California standard, passed in 1975, requires that polyurethane foam in upholstered furniture be able to withstand an open flame for 12 seconds without catching fire. Because there is no other state or federal standard, many manufacturers comply with the California rule, usually by adding flame retardants with the foam.

The startling and disturbing result of the published study in Environmental Health Perspectives is that Latino children born in California have levels of PBDE in their blood seven times higher  than do children who were born and raised in Mexico. In general, residents of California have higher rates of PBDE in their blood than do people in other parts of the United States.

A home can contain a pound or more of fire retardants that are similar in structure and action to substances such as PCBs and DDT that are widely banned. They leak out from furniture, settle in dust and are taken in by toddlers when they put their hands into their mouths. A paper published in Environmental Science & Technology also finds high fire retardant levels in pet dogs. Cats, because they lick their fur, have the highest levels of all.(5)  PBDE use has increased 40% from 1992 to 2003, and is forecast to grow by at least 3% per year from 2011; they are ubiquitous in consumer products.

One troubling example is chlorinated Tris, a flame retardant that was removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s largely based on research done by Dr. Arlene Blum, a biophysical chemist, after it was found to mutate DNA and identified as a probable human carcinogen.  In the journal Environmental Science and Technology, new research published in 2011 shows that chlorinated Tris was found in more than a third of the foam samples tested – products such as nursing pillows, highchairs, car seats and changing pads.

Tris is now being used at high levels in furniture being sold in California to meet the California standard.

The benefits of adding flame retardants have not been proved. Since the 1980s, retardants have been added to California furniture. From 1980 to 2004, fire deaths in states without such a standard declined at a similar rate as they did in California. And when during a fire the retardants burn, they increase the toxicity of the fire, producing dioxins, as well as additional carbon monoxide, soot and smoke, which are the major causes of fire deaths.

So why are we rolling the dice and exposing our children to substances with the potential to cause serious health problems when there is no proven fire safety benefit?

Under current law, it is difficult for the federal Environmental Protection Agency to ban or restrict chemicals – current federal oversight of chemicals is so weak that manufacturers are not required to label products with flame retardants nor are they required to list what chemicals are used. Even now, the agency has yet to ban asbestos!

“We can buy things that are BPA free, or phthalate free or lead free. We don’t have the choice to buy things that are flame-retardant free,” says Dr. Heather Stapleton, an assistant professor of environmental chemistry at Duke University. “The laws protect the chemical industry, not the general public.”  What makes them so bad?

  1. they are persistent:  they bioaccumulate, or build up, in fish and cats and Orcas and foxes – and people.  Our bodies cannot get rid of these contaminates, so our levels just increase over time.  We eat PBDEs when they contaminate our food, particularly meat and dairy products. They latch on to dust and other particles, so we breathe them in, or ingest them when dust settles on food or when children stuff their fingers into their mouths. Scientists look for PBDEs in breast milk because the chemicals stick to fat. In 1999, Swedish researchers reported that PBDE levels in women’s breast milk had increased 60-fold between 1972 and 1997.  Similar dramatic increases were documented in California harbor seals, ringed seals from the Arctic, gull eggs from the Great Lakes and human blood from Norway.   PBDE pollution has been found essentially everywhere scientists have looked: in the tissues of whales, seals, birds and bird eggs, moose, reindeer, mussels, eels, and fish; in human breast milk, hair, fat and blood; in hot dogs and hamburgers and the cheese we put on them;  in twenty different countries and remote areas such as the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Ocean, on top of mountains and under the sea.
  2. they are fat seeking: this causes them to magnify up the food chain, increasing in concentration at each successively higher  level. Once PBDE’s are released into the environment, they invariably find their way into humans, including pregnant women, where they pass  to the developing fetus in utero or through the breast milk to the nursing infant.  As evidence of fetal exposure, the infant at birth has levels of PBDE’s that are up to 25% of maternal levels.  And researchers have found that children’s PBDE levels are about 2.8 times higher than their mothers. Research in animals shows that exposure to brominated fire retardants in-utero or during infancy leads to more significant harm than exposure during adulthood, and much lower levels of PBDEs are needed to cause harm to infants and children than to adults.
  3. they are endocrine disruptorsMany of the known health effects of PBDEs are thought to stem from their ability to disrupt the body’s thyroid hormone balance, which plays an essential role in brain development.  Laboratory animals showed deficits in learning and memory with exposure to PBDE’s.   Studies of mice showed that a single exposure to PBDEs caused permanent behavioral aberrations that worsened as the mice got older.  One study, for instance, found that women whose levels of T4 measured in the lowest 10 percent of the population during the first trimester of pregnancy were more than 2.5 times as likely to have a child with an IQ of less than 85 (in the lowest 20 percent of the range of IQs) and five times as likely to have a child with an IQ of less than 70, meeting the diagnosis of “mild retardation.”

Personal choices can make a difference. Buying furniture, fabric, cell phones or computers made without PBDEs is definitely a vote for a non-toxic future. But personal choices can only go so far – and the crisis is great.   PBDEs, like other contaminant issues, are at least as much a social as a personal issue and challenge. You can help your kids not only with your buying habits, but also by modeling social action for environmental change, and by campaigning for a non-toxic future, the kind of future where mother’s milk will regain its purity.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) controls chemicals partially through use of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which was amended in 2016.

Although the law contains the words “Toxic Substances” the TSCA law  does not separate chemicals into categories of toxic and non-toxic.  In fact, of the 60,000 chemicals in use in the USA in 1976, the year of the passing of the law, all were grandfathered in as safe to use. These are known as “existing chemicals”.

  1. We assume the TSCA is testing and regulating chemicals used in the industry..It is not:

Of the more than 60,000 existing chemicals  in use prior to 1976, most were “grandfathered in”; only 263 had been tested for safety and only 5 were restricted.  Today over 80,000 chemicals are routinely used in industry, and the number which have been tested for safety in tests required by the EPA has not materially changed since 1976.  So we cannot know the risks of exposing ourselves to certain chemicals.  The default position is that no information about a chemical = no action. (Thank goodness for the European Union. The great progress in the past two decades in determining toxicity and safety of many chemicals is due to their action.)

The chemical spill which occurred in West Virginia in 2014 was of “crude MCHM”, or 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, one of the chemicals that was grandfathered into the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.   That means that nobody knows for sure what that chemical can do to us.

Carcinogenic effects? No information available.

Mutagenic effects? No information available.

Developmental toxicity? No information available.

Lack of information is the reason the local and federal authorities were so unsure of how to advise the local population about their drinking water supplies.  (And by the way, in January, 2014, a federal lawsuit was filed in Charleston, WV, which claims that the manufacturer of MCHM hid “highly toxic and carcinogenic properties” of components of MCHM, hexane and methanol, both of which have been tested and found to cause diseases such as cancer.)

I found claims he EPA has been successful in restricting only nine chemicals of the 60,000 that were grandfathered in as permissible “existing Chemicals”  (PCBs, chlorofluorocarbons, dioxin, asbestos, and hexavalent chromium) in its 38-year history, with the ban on asbestos being overturned in 1991.

Until 2016 none of those chemicals were required to be tested for safety. The 2016 revision of the law requires some existing chemicals to be tested for safety, and gives deadlines for the evaluation. The first ten chemicals to be assessed as specifically required by the 2016 revisions are:

  • Asbestos
  • 1-Bromopropane
  • Carbon Tetrachloride
  • 1,4 Dioxane
  • Cyclic Aliphatic Bromide Cluster (HBCD)
  • Methylene Chloride
  • N-Methylpyrrolidone
  • Perchloroethylene
  • Pigment Violet 29
  • Trichloroethylene

But don’t hold your breath.  Take one of the above list:  Methylene Chloride.  The EPA assessed it beginning in 2014 and proposed a ban – at least from paint removers – in 2017, stating that the chemical posed “unnecessary risks” to people. The European Union had taken this step in 2011.  The EPA keeps delaying the ban, and has weakened it by removing one of 2 toxic chemicals in the proposed ban to just one.

Slate has an informative account of the current issue, “A Chemical in Paint Remover is A Known Killer: Why Won’t the EPA Ban It?” in which you can get a taste of the many years the EPA can delay an action or change one, even after announcing and committing to it:


The Environmental Defense Fund has a good blog whose almost every entry is a repudiation of what FabricSellerA  claims about American manufacture of products being safe because of the federal government. The EDF has an interesting story about PCB’s, which Congress specifically outlawed in  1979; and how action and inaction by the EPA has allowed variants of PCBs to be still used and sold in the US now, even after the 2016 TSCA revisions:


  1. We assume that the TSCA requires manufacturers to demonstrate that their chemicals are safe before they go into use. It does not:
    1. The EPA requires a “Premanufacture Notification” of a new chemical, and no data of any kind is required.   The EPA receives between 40-50 each week and 8 out of 10 are approved, with or without test data, with no restrictions on their proposed use. As 3M puts it on their PMN forms posted on EPA’s web site, “You are not required to submit the listed test data if you do not have it.”
    2. The TSCA says the government has to prove actual harm caused by the chemical in question before any controls can be put in place.  The catch-22 is that chemical companies don’t have to develop toxicity data or submit it to the EPA for an existing product unless the agency finds out that it will pose a risk to humans or the environment – which is difficult to do if there is no data in the first place.  Lack of evidence of harm is taken as evidence of no harm.
    3. We assume that manufacturers must list all ingredients in a product, so if we have an allergy or reaction to certain chemicals we can check to see if the product is free of those chemicals. It does not.

The TSCA allows chemical manufacturers to keep ingredients in some products secret.   Nearly 20% of the 80,000 chemicals in use today are considered “trade secrets”.  This makes it impossible for consumers to find out what’s actually in a product.  And there is no time limit on the period in which a chemical can be considered a trade secret.

These limitations all help to perpetuate the chemical industry’s failure to innovate toward safer chemical and product design.  It’s one of the reasons the USA is one of the few nations in the world in which asbestos is not banned.  The EPA has issued regulations to control only 9 chemicals since the enactment of TSCA and the EPA has assessed the risks of only about 2% of the chemicals in use.

On June 22, 2016, President Obama signed the bill that reforms the Toxic Substances Control Act.  It was widely agreed that the TSCA is not doing the job of protecting us, and that the United States is in need of profound change in this area. The chemicals market values function, price and performance over safety, which poses a barrier to the scientific and commercial success of green chemistry in the United States and could ultimately hinder the U.S. chemical industry’s competitiveness in the global marketplace as green technologies accelerate under the European Union’s requirements.

we presumably would have an EPA with a mandate to review all chemicals in commerce, the authority to readily get the data it needs, and the resources required to execute the kind of comprehensive prioritization scheme ACC proposes.

So far the improvements in the 2016 revision have not resulted in any safety testing being accomplished, but rather the establishment of a horrendous bureaucracy for evaluation which chemicals need to be evaluated after the first 30 which were mandated.

We cover above the chemicals outlawed in various products by US regulators. There are not many – and most are not regulated in the end usage of fabric at all.   Here are the requirements for fabrics – mostly applying to children:

  • Section 101(a) of the CPSIA restricts children’s products, including children’s apparel and sleepwear, to a lead content limit of 100 parts per million (ppm). In addition, the use of paint or similar surface coating on children’s apparel and sleepwear must not exceed a lead content limit of 90 ppm. That compares to the Oeko-Tex 100andGOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) requirement that the lead content be 2 ppm.
  • Section 108 of CPSIA states that children’s toys and child care articles cannot contain more that 0.1% of six phthalates – DEHP, DBP, BBP limits are applicable to both toys and child care items while DINP, DIDP, and DnOP limits are applicable only to toys that can be placed in the mouth and are intended for children 3 and younger. Although children’s clothing does not need to be certified to this requirement, children’s sleepwear or bibs (child care article) intended for children age 3 years or younger and any children’s textile product that is intended for use in play (toy) must be certified to the phthalates requirements. In comparison to Oeko-Tex 100 and GOTS, all phthalates are prohibited.
  • Textiles used in apparel must meet class 1 or 2 flammability requirements. Children’s sleepwear must be flame resistant and self-extinguish when exposed to a small ignition source. The rules cover all children’s sleepwear between size 9 months and size 14. The fabric, seams, trim, and garments must pass certain flammability tests or the garment must be tight-fitting as defined by specified dimensions. ( See our blog post on flame retardants , published in May, 2013) But this rule means that toxic chemicals are often added to children’s sleepwear – not kept out of it.

What does this mean? It means that the United States has basically no protection for consumers in terms of textiles.

So, I have many bones to pick with FabricsellerA, who ignores the weak protections that the federal government provides to protect us from the real safety issues from fabric production and chemicals residual in the fabric that is everywhere around us.  The United States has precious few protections for consumers or for workers regarding fabric safety issues while Oeko-Tex does an excellent job of protecting consumers of fabric, though not workers.

The Unabridged Post: from FabricsellerA:

FabricsellerA consumers are savvy consumers. We often receive inquiries from our customers asking if FabricsellerA fabrics are OEKO-TEX certified. They are not OEKO-TEX certified, and here’s why this is a good thing:

 OEKO-TEX® is an international association headquartered in Europe, comprised of independent research and test laboratories – focused on the textile industry – which certifies that fabrics meet safety standards for consumer use. OEKO-TEX 100 is the organization’s global testing and certification program that ensures textile products are tested for more than 300 harmful chemicals.

 It’s often difficult for resellers of fabrics made in China, India, or other countries, to discern how the fabrics are being made, and what chemicals are being used in their manufacture. That’s why it’s important that the fabrics they sell have an OEKO-TEX certificate or equivalent; this indicates that the fabrics meet strict health and safety standards, and are safe to use. For the benefit of consumers there is an online directory that lists all products, companies, and brands that are OEKO-TEX certified

 While OEKO-TEX certification is a stringent process, many of the requirements for this certification are not applicable to our American-made products. That’s why FabricsellerA fabrics are not OEKO-TEX certified—because our fabrics are made right here in the USA . We adhere to the even more demanding American health and safety standards, and ensure that no harmful chemicals are used in the production of our fabrics.

 In the United States, all the fabric manufacturers, including FabricsellerA, produce their fabrics under the safety guidelines and regulations set forth by several government agencies. These agencies include the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

 The CPSC is the agency that regulates the sale and manufacture of consumer products, and ultimately certifies a fabric as compliant and approved for sale in the United States, in accordance with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). The CPSIA compliance certification ensures that the products you use every day have met the most stringent, comprehensive American health and safety standards.

 Fabrics made or sold in America must not only meet CPSIA requirements, but manufacturing must comply with EPA, OSHA, and other regulations, which makes themeven more rigorous than the OEKO-TEX test criteria. This is why OEKO-TEX certification is not required in the United States. These strict measures guarantee the highest levels of safety, not only for the consumers who use the fabrics, but also for the health and safety of those who make them, and environmental protection.

 In addition to FabricsellerA’s ongoing mission and commitment to bringing you safe, high-quality products for your use, our fabrics are, of course, CPSIA Compliant. They meet the highest standards of health and safety in the world.


[1]On average, 78% of the weight of a fabric is the fiber it purports to be, and 22% is residual chemicals.  W. Baumann, K. Lacasse, Textile Chemicals: Environmental Data and Facts, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2004

[2]If you don’t know what flame retardants can do to you, please see our blog https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/?s=pbde

 (3) Some of the more common BFR’s are: Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE’s):  besides PBDE, the group includes DecaBDE, OctaBDE and PentaBDE (neither Octa nor Penta is manufactured anymore); Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) – also not manufactured anymore; Brominated cyclohydrocarbons

[4]Martin, Andrew, “Chemical Suspected in Cancer is in Baby products”, The New York Times, May 17, 2011.

[5]Vernier, Marta and Hites, Ronald; “Flame Retardants in the Serum of Pet Dogs and in their Food”, Environmental Science and Technology, 2011, 45 (10), pp4602-4608. http://pubs.acs.org/action/doSearchaction=search&searchText=PBDE+levels+in+pets&qsSearchArea=searchText&type=within



What is the benefit of PLA?

O Ecotextiles (and Two Sisters Ecotextiles)

Much of this article came from the Smithsonian Magazine written by Elizabeth Royte – to whom we owe our gratitude.

Near Blair, Nebraska is the largest lactic acid plant in the world.  Into one end goes corn, and out the other comes white pellets, which some say is the future of plastic.  The substance is PLA – Polymerized Lactic Acid, or polylactic acid.

Globally, bioplastics (of which PLA is a member) make up nearly 331,000 tons (300,000 metric tons) of the plastics market.[1]  That may sound like a lot, but it only accounts for less than 1 percent of the 200 million tons (181 million metric tons) of synthetic plastics the world produces each year. Still, the bioplastics market is growing by 20 to 30 percent each year.[2]  In the US, plastics take up 25% of landfilles by volume.[3]

Even the Biodegradable Products Institute notes that NOTHING biodegrades in a landfill because nothing is supposed to. Furthermore the Biodegradable Products Institute notes that “Uncontrolled biodegradation in a landfill can cause ground water pollution, methane gas emissions and unstable sub-soil conditions.”

The benefit of PLA is that is that it’s made from Midwestern corn, not Middle East oil[4]. It’s a renewable resource, but more than 93% of the corn produced in the USA is genetically modified in some way.  NatureWorks (owned by Cargill, the world’s largest corn merchant) insists that you don’t have to worry about consuming genetically modified proteins because these are destroyed in the transformation from plant to PLA plastic.[5]  NatureWorks, acknowledging some of those criticisms, points out that the corn it uses is low-grade animal feed not intended for human use. And it processes a small amount of non-genetically engineered corn for customers who request it.[6]

Producing PLA uses 65% less energy than producing conventional plastics, according to an independent analysis commissioned by NatureWorks. It also generates 68% fewer greenhouse gases.  And, if incinerated, bioplastics don’t emit toxic fumes like their oil-based counterparts.

PLA does releases toxicfumes known as VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). Not all VOCs are actually toxic, but some may be, especially for younger users. Before this becomes a serious health issue, a new study has analysed the exact quantities of toxic VOCs – as well as potentially dangerous nanoparticles – in order to assess the potential health risks. The new study, presented by Dr. Fabrizio Merlo and Dr. Eng. Stefano Mazzoni, starts off from other previous research conducted in the early 90’s, which demonstrated that during the fusion and processing of plastic materials, several toxic particles are released as gases, including ammonia, cyanidric acid, phenol, and benzene, among others.  PLA is a corn-based polymer and is not exempt from dangerous emissions, especially if extruded at temperatures higher than 200°C.  Among the effects that the absorption of toxic VOC’s and nanoparticles can cause to humans, the most common are pulmonary pathologies, such as bronchitis, tracheitis, asthma. In some cases, these substances can also cause certain types of cancers, so this is not something to be taken lightly. [7]

Another problem with PLA is that , as one of the producers, Joe Selzer a vice president at Wilkinson Industries, puts it:  “I had my takeout box in my car in the sun and it melted into a pancake!” So PLA  can’t be used for such things as containers made for holding hot liquids.   He continues: “Our number-one concern is PLA’s competitive price, and then its applications. After that comes the feel-good.”  In the beginning, it cost $200 to make a pound of PLA, now it’s less than $1.[8]

PLA produces the greenhouse gas methane when it decomposes so composting isn’t a perfect disposal method.

But the biggest problem with PLA is it’s biodegradability:  PLA is said to decompose into carbon dioxide and water in a “controlled composting environment” in fewer than 90 days. What’s a controlled composting environment? Not your backyard bin.   It’s a large facility where compost—essentially, plant scraps being digested by microbes into fertilizer—reaches 140 degrees for ten consecutive days. So, yes, as PLA advocates say, corn plastic is “biodegradable.” But in reality very few consumers have access to the sort of composting facilities that can make that happen. NatureWorks has identified 113 such facilities nationwide—some handle industrial food-processing waste or yard trimmings, others are college or prison operations—but only about a quarter of them accept residential foodscraps collected by municipalities.

Moreover, PLA by the truckload may potentially pose a problem for some large-scale composters. Chris Choate, a composting expert at Norcal Waste Systems, headquartered in San Francisco, says large amounts of PLA can interfere with conventional composting because the polymer reverts into lactic acid, making the compost wetter and more acidic. “Microbes will consume the lactic acid, but they demand a lot of oxygen, and we’re having trouble providing enough,” he says. “Right now, PLA isn’t a problem,” because there’s so little of it, Choate says.  (NatureWorks disputes that idea, saying that PLA has no such effect on the composting processes.)

To plastic processors, PLA in tiny amounts is merely a nuisance. But in large amounts it can be an expensive hassle. In the recycling business, soda bottles, milk jugs and the like are collected and baled by materials recovery facilities, or MRFs (pronounced “murfs”). The MRFs sell the material to processors, which break down the plastic into pellets or flakes, which are, in turn, made into new products, such as carpeting, fiberfill, or containers for detergent or motor oil. Because PLA and PET mix about as well as oil and water, recyclers consider PLA a contaminant. They have to pay to sort it out and pay again to dispose of it.

Wild Oats accepts used PLA containers in half of its 80 stores. “We mix the PLA with produce and scraps from our juice bars and deliver it to an industrial composting facility,” says the company spokesman Sonja Tuitele. But at the Wild Oats stores that don’t take back PLA, customers are on their own, and they can’t be blamed if they feel deceived by PLA containers stamped “compostable.” Brinton, who has done extensive testing of PLA,says such containers are “unchanged” after six months in a home composting operation. For that reason, he considers the Wild Oats stamp, and their in-store signage touting PLA’s compostability, to be false advertising.[9]

Despite PLA’s potential as an environmentally friendly material, it seems clear that a great deal of corn packaging, probably the majority of it, will end up in landfills. And there’s no evidence it will break down there any faster or more thoroughly than PET or any other form of plastic. Glenn Johnston, manager of global regulatory affairs for NatureWorks, says that a PLA container dumped in a landfill will last “as long as a PET bottle.” No one knows for sure how long that is, but estimates range from 100 to 1,000 years.

Environmentalists have other objections to PLA. Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, questions the morality of turning a foodstuff into packaging when so many people in the world are hungry. “Already we’re converting 12 percent of the U.S. grain harvest to ethanol,” he says. The USDA projects that figure will rise to 23 percent by 2014. “How much corn do we want to convert to nonfood products?” In addition, most of the corn that NatureWorks uses to make PLA resin is genetically modified to resist pests, and some environmentalists oppose the use of such crops, claiming they will contaminate conventional crops or disrupt local ecosystems. Other critics point to the steep environmental toll of industrially grown corn. The cultivation of corn uses more nitrogen fertilizer, more herbicides and more insecticides than any other U.S. crop; those practices contribute to soil erosion and water pollution when nitrogen runs off fields into streams and rivers.

Eric Lombardi, president of the Grassroots Recycling Network and a leader in the international Zero Waste movement, takes a nuanced view of PLA’s progress. He says it’s “visionary” even to think about biologically based plastic instead of a petroleum-based one. True, he says, there are problems with PLA, “but let’s not kill the good in pursuit of the perfect.”

So in the end, what have we learned?

  • It produces no toxic compounds when burned, unlike many plastics.
  • Like conventional plastic, it’s not likely to break down in a landfill.
  • It produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
  • Also like conventional plastic, it doesn’t break down quickly on land or in the ocean.
  • And finally, it only can be composted in commercial-grade composting plants, while failing to break down in a backyard compost pile.

Until the kinks are worked out on the disposal and reprocessing end, PLA may not be much better than the plain old plastic it’s designed to make obsolete.


[1]”Bioplastics Frequently Asked Questions.” European Bioplastics. June 2008. (Nov. 6, 2008)http://www.european-bioplastics.org/index.php?id=191


[3] Royte, Elizabeth; Smithsonian Magazine, August 2006

[4] Wood, Shelby,  The Oregonian; posted October 27, 2008   https://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2008/10/pla_corn_plastic_problems.html


[6] Ibid.

[7] https://3dprintingindustry.com; accessed on 9.28.18

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.



What is Sensuede?

O Ecotextiles (and Two Sisters Ecotextiles)

Sensuede is, according to its website, an elegant, supple, high performance textile made with recycled fibers. But Sensuede is not a fabric we’d be excited about selling, and let us tell you why:  Sensuade is just a brand name for a polyester microfiber.  Ultrasuede was the first of its type.  But all microfibers are made in the same way:

Polyester microfibers are spun and cut into short staple lengths, then are bound in a polyurethane base (88% recycled polyester, 12% polyurethane).

  1. Polyester is made from crude oil, and is the terminal product in a chain of very reactive and toxic precursors. Most are carcinogens: all are poisonous.   The manufacturing process requires workers and our environment to be exposed to some or all of the chemicals produced during the manufacturing process. There is no doubt that the manufacture of polyester is an environmental and public health burden that we would be better off without. Polyesters contain many hormone disrupting chemicals that have been more in the news lately.
  2. Polyurethane used in this process is usually made from toluene diisocyante (TDI) which is highly toxic.  It is, in fact, the most toxic plastic known next to PVC.   Polyurethane manufacture creates numerous hazardous by-products, including phosgene (used as a lethal gas during WWII), isosyanates (known carcinogens), toluene (teratogenic and embryotoxic) and ozone depleting gases methylene chloride and CFC’s.  From Wikipedia:  No exposure limits have been established by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) or ACGIH (American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists). It is not regulated by OSHA for carcinogenicity. Polyurethane polymer is a combustible solid and can be ignited if exposed to an open flame. Decomposition from fire can produce mainly carbon monoxide, and trace nitrogen oxides and hydrogen cyanide.

The production of polyester uses antimony as a catalyst, which has been classified as a carcinogen in the State of California since 1990 and a class 3 carcinogen by the EU.

Sensuade’s claim to being eco is that it takes 84% less energy to use recycled polyester than to use virgin polyester.  That still leaves energy requirements which are higher than most natural fibers:

FIBER energy use in MJ per KG of fiber:
hemp, organic 2
flax 10
hemp, conventional 12
cotton, organic, India 12
cotton, organic, USA 14
Cotton, conventional, USA 55
wool 63
Viscose 100
SENSUADE – (uses 84% less energy than virgin poly) 20
Polyester 125
Nylon 250

What is not mentioned by Sensuade is that polyester production produces a large quantity of CO2 emissions:  the production of polyester generates particulates, CO2, N2O, hydrocarbons, sulphur oxides and carbon monoxide,[1]acetaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane (also potentially carcinogenic).[2]

The major water-borne emissions from polyester production include dissolved solids, acids, iron and ammonia. Water treatment throughout the production process would be essential for any polyester  product to make a claim to being green.  But Oeko-Tex 100 has no such requirements at all. Oeko-Tex 100 was a decent start when it was first introdcued twenty years ago, but fabric certifications have come a long way since then in recognizing the envirnomental costs and harm in textile production.  Oeko-Tex 1000 is a good standard, but there are very very few mills in the world so certifed.

Also please keep in mind, that if, you choose a synthetic, then you bypass the benefits you’d get from supporting organic agriculture, which may be one of our most potent weapons in fighting climate change, because:

    1. It acts as a carbon sink: new research has shown that what is IN the soil itself (microbes and other soil organisms in healthy soil) is more important in sequestering carbon that what grows ON the soil. And compared to forests, agricultural soils may be a more secure sink for atmospheric carbon, since they are not vulnerable to logging and wildfire. The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial (FST) soil carbon data (which covers 30 years) demonstrates that improved global terrestrial stewardship–specifically including regenerative organic agricultural practices–can be the most effective currently available strategy for mitigating CO2 emissions. [6]
    2. It eliminates the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which is an improvement in human health and agrobiodiversity
    3. It conserves water (making the soil more friable so rainwater is absorbed better – lessening irrigation requirements and erosion)
    4. It ensures sustained biodiversity

And remember,   Sensuade is still . . .plastic.   Burgeoning evidence about the disastrous consequences of using plastic in our environment continues to mount. A new compilation of peer reviewed articles, representing over 60 scientists from around the world, aims to assess the impact of plastics on the environment and human health [3]and they found:

    1. Chemicals added to plastics are absorbed by human bodies. Some of these compounds have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.
    2. Synthetics do not decompose: in landfills they release heavy metals, including antimony, and other additives into soil and groundwater. If they are burned for energy, the chemicals are released into the air.

But Sensuade is Oeko Tex 100 certified?  How can that be?

Because Oeko Tex 100 tests the finished fabric only – and only for process chemicals which are normally used in textile production and which may remain residue in the fabric, not having been washed out in the production steps.  Many fabrics made of synthetic fibers can be Oeko Tex 100 certified because the list of chemicals tested for doesn’t include the chemicals found in the fibers.  So the dyes used in Sensuade are benign, but the fibers (polyester and polyurethane) are not.  And Oeko Tex doesn’t require water treatment, which is critically needed to prevent the water borne emissions from polyester and polyurethane production from entering our groundwaters.  And Sensuade doesn’t mention anything about capturing emissions.

Is it safe because of the Oeko Tex certification?  Remember, each time you sit down microscopic particles abrade and fly into the air, so you can breathe them in.  So you’re not eating the fabrics, but your body is porous –  the environment isus.

From our blog post on 9.9.2011:

The Global Recycle Standard (GRS), originated by Control Union and now administered by Textile Exchange (formerly Organic Exchange), is intended to establish independently verified claims as to the amount of recycled content in a yarn, with the important added dimension of prohibiting certain chemicals, requiring water treatment and upholding workers rights, holding the weaver to standards similar to those found in the Global Organic Textile Standard:

  • Companies must keep full records of the use of chemicals, energy, water consumption and waste water treatment including the disposal of sludge;
  • All prohibitied chemicals listed in GOTS are also prohibited in the GRS;
  • All wastewater must be treated for pH, temperature, COD and BOD before disposal;
  • There is an extensive section related to worker’s rights.


[1]  “Ecological Footprint and Water Analysis of Cotton, Hemp and Polyester”, by Cherrett et al, Stockholm Environment Institute

[2]Gruttner, Henrik, Handbook of Sustainable Textile Purchasing, EcoForum, Denmark, August 2006.

[3]“Plastics, the environment and human health”, Thompson, et al, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, July 27, 2009