Do You Know What You're Wearing?

I've written some posts on occasion about matters that concern the environment and health, from doing a green sweep of household cleaning products to trying to add more healthful organic foods into meals. I've talked about recycling, upcycling and buying secondhand. Today I want to talk about becoming more conscious about the clothing we wear.

We're all aware, or should be, that our clothing and textiles are largely manufactured outside the U.S. Cheap labor and less stringent environmental and safety regulations all factor into the decision for companies to keep costs at a minimum, although that doesn't necessarily mean lower prices for us. It just means bigger profits for the corporations. But beyond the dollars that go out of our wallets when we make a purchase there are other costs you may not have considered.

Recently I was browsing through some clearance racks at a local store and found a nice half-zip top in the sportswear department. It was made of a performance type fabric that I thought would be a nice layering item for the cold winter. I wasn't focusing on much other than style, size, color and the great clearance price. That's probably what most of us look at. It wasn't until I got home and was about to remove the hang tags that I noticed two I had missed seeing in the store. I immediately knew this was one clothing item that would be getting returned.

As you can see, this piece of clothing has been chemically treated with built-in sun screen protection and built-in insect protection! I don't know about you but chemicals that are added to my clothing, that are already made out of chemicals to begin with, is just too much. Any protection I would be gaining from the harmful UV radiation or possible insect borne disease would only be mitigated by the chemicals I would no doubt be absorbing into my skin. And what those chemicals are I have no way of knowing. They may be carcinogenic or hormone disrupting chemicals. Do I want to hold a small child while wearing these chemical riddled clothes? What about when they are laundered? How much is leaching out into the sewers and contaminating our water and soil? The label on the top I bought says the insect protection is "proven". What exactly is proven? It doesn't say. It also says it "lasts through 70 launderings".  In other words, the chemicals eventually wash out and are rinsed down the drain and into the environment, as do dyes and other chemicals used in the manufacture of our clothing.

Just a few days later I saw an article about the Greenpeace Detox Campaign, and with it a video that left me sick to my stomach. Watch it and I think you'll be alarmed too.

The next time you go shopping for clothes I hope you will remember this. The next time you turn on a faucet and see nice clean water coming out I hope you will remember. Our choices do make a difference, not only for ourselves but for countless others around the world. We only have one world and we all have to share it.
I did a little further research into insect repellent treated clothing and discovered that the only repellent approved for use in clothing is permethrin, which has been approved and deemed safe by the EPA. According to Wikipedia permethrin "has low mammalian toxicity, is poorly absorbed through the skin and is rapidly inactivated by the body. Skin reactions have been uncommon." There are no known risks to using this to treat clothing including for toddlers, who may have oral contact with their clothing, or for pregnant and lactating women. It has also been tested to be safe for daily wear and all military clothing is now treated with permethrin.

It is, however, recommended that treated clothing be washed separately from other laundry. And although safe for humans the following points were made:

  • Permethrin is extremely toxic to fish and aquatic life in general, so extreme care must be taken when using products containing permethrin near water sources.
  • Permethrin is also highly toxic to cats, and flea and tick-repellent formulas intended and labeled for (the more resistant) dogs may contain permethrin and cause feline permethrin toxicosis in cats.[9]
  • Very high doses will have tangible neurotoxic effects on mammals and birds, including human beings.

You can read more at the EPA website and Wikipedia. As always, it is up to each of us to make our own choices and to be knowledgeable consumers.

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