Indulgent yet responsible fabrics

What are we doing to the children?

O Ecotextiles (and Two Sisters Ecotextiles)

Americans live in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, yet American children are less likely to live to age 5 than children in comparable nations – and I was shocked to find that America has the highest infant mortality rate in the industrialized world.[1]


Our children are especially vulnerable to the presence of toxic chemicals in their lives, and unfortunately this means that our children are sicker than we were as kids.

That is due to many different things, but one component can be found in changes to our environment. Since the middle of the last century, we have allowed a slew of chemicals (numbering now over 80,000) to be used in products – chemicals which were untested, many of which we now know to be harmful. In 2009, tests conducted by five laboratories in the U.S., Canada and Europe found up to 232 toxic chemicals in 10 umbilical cord blood samples of newborns. Substances detected for the first time in U.S. newborns included a toxic flame retardant chemical called Tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA) that permeates computer circuit boards, synthetic fragrances (Galaxolide and Tonalide) used in common cosmetics and detergents, and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFBA, or C4), a member of the notorious Teflon chemical family used to make non-stick and grease-, stain- and water-resistant coatings for cookware, textiles, food packaging and other consumer products.  Additionally, laboratory tests commissioned by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Rachel’s Network have detected Bisphenol A (BPA) for the first time in the umbilical cord blood of U.S. newborns. The tests identified this plastics component in 9 of 10 cord blood samples from babies of African American, Asian and Hispanic descent. The findings provide hard evidence that U.S. infants are contaminated with BPA beginning in the womb.

Our immune systems can only take so much –  when the toxic burden reaches capacity we end up with the epidemic rates in inflammatory conditions like allergies and asthma.   Many experts feel that compromised immune systems have also contributed to the rise in autism, which needs no further dramatic numbers to define its horrific rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control – today, 1 in every 20 children will develop a food allergy and 1 in every 8 will have a skin allergy.[2] Allergies are a result of impacts on our body’s immune system. It is estimated that as much as 45% of children have type 2 diabetes.[3]

You would think that we’d rise up to protest these assults on our kids. But Greenpeace has a new report about the chemicals found in children’s clothing, entitled “A Little Story About Monsters in Your Closet”[4] . ( Click here to read the report.)  Their latest investigation revealed the presence of hazardous chemicals in clothing made by 12 very well known brands; from the iconic kid’s label Disney, to sportswear brands like Adidas, and even top-end luxury labels like Burberry.

The shocking truth is that no matter what type of kid’s clothes we shop for, there’s no safe haven – all of the tested brands had at least one product containing hazardous toxic monsters – toxic chemicals which mess with the normal development of our children’s bodies.

Greenpeace bought 82 items from authorized retailers in 25 countries, made in at least 12 different regions and found traces, beyond the technical limits of detection, of a number of banned and dangerous chemicals, including:

  • Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), chemicals found in 61% of the products tested and in all brands, from 1 mg/kg (the limit of detection) up to 17,000 mg/kg. NPEs degrade to nonylphenols (NP) when released into the environment; they hormone disruptors, persistent and bioaccumulative.
  • Phtalates, plastics-softeners banned in children’s toys because of toxicity and hormonal effects, were found in 33 out of 35 samples tested. A Primark t-shirt sold in Germany contained 11% phthalates, and an American Apparel baby one-piece sold in the USA contained 0.6% phthalates.
  • Organotins, fungicides banned by the EU and found in three of five shoe samples and three clothing articles (of 21 tested). Organotins impact thePe immune and nervous systems of mammals.
  • Per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) were found in each of 15 articles tested; one adidas swimsuit tested far higher than the limit set by Norway in 2014 and even by adidas in its Restricted Substances List.
  • Antimony was found in 100% of the articles tested; antimony is similar in toxicity to arsenic.

Greenpeace is calling on textile companies to recognize the urgency of the situation and to act as leaders in committing to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals and to our governments to support these commitments to zero discharge of all hazardous chemicals within one generation.

But it probably is most important that we, consumers with the all mighty dollar, demand that brands and governments make the changes that our children deserve. If you vote with your dollars, change will happen.

Click here to get the “Little Monsters: Field Guide to Hazardous Chemicals” from Greenpeace.

[1] World Health Organization (2013): World Health Statistics 2013.

[2] http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/02/childhood-food-skin-allergies-on-the-rise/

[3] Alberti, George, et al, “Type 2 Diabetes in the Young: The Evolving Epidemic”, American Diabetes Association, http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/27/7/1798.long

[4] http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/Global/eastasia/publications/reports/toxics/2013/A%20Little%20Story%20About%20the%20Monsters%20In%20Your%20Closet%20-%20Report.pdf

7 thoughts on “What are we doing to the children?

  1. eremophila says:

    Reblogged this on Eremophila's Musings and commented:
    Surely it’s time to take action against this atrocity?!

  2. Alison says:

    I love your blog and have learned so much here. This post strikes a nerve with me, as it speaks to the utterly impossible position parents are so often put in as we strive to make the safest possible choices for our children. I can dress my kids in GOTS certified organic clothing and buy organic mattresses and toys, but when it comes to essential safety devices like carseats there seem to be very few good options. I wonder if I might ask your opinion, as I know of no source more knowledgeable and honest on this topic: I have to buy a new car seat for my son who has outgrown his old seat (Orbit toddler seat, which had Oeko Tex certified fabrics). I am considering a seat by Canadian manufacturer Clek, which will keep him rear facing longer (which is unequivocally the safest way for a child under 5 or 6 to sit). The company claims to use no brominated or chlorinated fire retardants in their seats, however they do use Crypton Super Fabrics. I don’t think there is any way to avoid some type of nasty fire retardants in car seats, but I am very leery of Crypton fabrics. I have read everything I can find on your blog about Crypton and fluorotelomer chemistry, it definitely seems unsafe for children. They also offers a leather option (which is extremely expensive), but I know that leather also comes with its own host of issues, presumably contains formaldehyde, etc. Is there a way to make a rational judgement between these two options and their safety for kids or is that impossible?

    1. Hi Alison:

      Thanks Alison – and I agree with you that perfluorinated treatments are not safe for children. But I think using a Crypton fabric in a car seat impacts the environment more than having any additional direct health impact on your son. What I mean is that by accepting a Crypton fabric you’ve just supported the manufacture of more Crypton fabric, with all the dire effects that PFC’s have on our environment and us. (After all, PFC’s are pretty much ubiquitous in our lives, in all kinds of products, and in our house dust and our blood.) And as you point out, leather is not an option. It looks like you’re between a rock and a hard place. I would most definitely make the manufacturer aware of your dissatisfaction with the choices of fabric. But perhaps you could reevaluate the situation: I remember my kids protesting violently after a certain age when I tried to put them in a rear-facing seat – they were far too interested in looking out the windows.

      1. Alison says:

        Oh, thank you so much for that thoughtful response. So, it’s your take that the Crypton fabric would have a less of a direct health impact than leather? I do want to be clear that I would definitely consider the leather version of the seat, despite the extra expense, if I felt that it was the safer one in terms of contact with a child’s skin, etc. It did seem to me that it might do a better job than a woven fabric at containing the flame retardants, but seeing as how every other surface in the car is drenched in flame retardants, that does seem like a pretty minor point. Either way, as you say, it is a terrible feeling to know that I am contributing to the environmental disaster we are leaving for our children. On a very slightly brighter note, Clek does at least recycle their seats, which hopefully is a bit better than sending another heap of plastic into the landfill.

  3. No, I don’t think Crypton has less of an impact than leather – they’re both environmental nightmares and they’re both not good to live with. But given the amount of time your son spends in the car seat and the fact that he’s dressed means there is no direct contact – so you have only the volatile chemicals as a concern – since they both contain volatile chemicals it’s a toss up as to which is worse.

    1. Alison says:

      Isn’t that awful! There are so many rock and a hard place decisions that we all have to make every day. Thank you for all you do educating all of us on these important topics.

      1. Thanks – we love getting pats on the back!

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