Dad Tests Daughter’s Pajamas for Toxic Chemicals: What He Found Was Shocking
- Published on: 02 April, 2016
- Last update: 07 August, 2017
If there’s one thing I am, it’s sensitive. Emotionally sensitive (I’m an artist at heart), energy sensitive (I can feel someone’s bad mood from a mile away), and most of all, chemically sensitive.
As a teen, I got all my clothing from fast-fashion giants like Forever 21. I knew the pieces wouldn’t last more than a few washes, but I didn’t mind because the prices were so low and fashion trends change faster than Obama’s stance on GMOs. (If you missed the pun, I’m referring to his 2007 promise that “every American has a right to know if their food is genetically modified,” even though he shortly thereafter signed HR 933, which protects Monsanto from ever having to label their products. But I digress 😉 )
ANYWAY, little did I know at the time, you truly get what you pay for. Although I left the store with some cute new tops, I also always left with inflammation, especially on my face where the clothing would brush against me as I pulled the shirts over my head. Any blemishes I had at the time would become red and angry, and my fingers would swell as my body began to retain water. When you’re a ‘sensitive’ person that has been forced to tune into your body’s signals in order to figure out the pieces and triggers to your chronic illness, you know what your body likes and doesn’t like. These were clear alarms that I was being exposed to something that created disharmony within my system.
Aside from all of this, the chemical smell of their clothing was enough to tell me something was up.
It looks like I wasn’t the only one who noticed, which brings me to the incredible documentary I just finished watching, Stink.
Stink is a documentary about the chemical industry, and their vigorous efforts to conceal known toxic ingredients in order to protect corporate profits. The movie’s director and narrator, Jon Whelan, decided to begin this project when he smelled a noxious odor coming from his daughters’ new pajamas that they opened on Christmas morning.
The pajamas were purchased from the tween store Justice (which is owned by former super-chain “Limited Too,” a place that was akin to a candy store in my 8-year-old mind. I used to beg my mom to take me there every time we visited the mall!)
You see, Jon’s wife passed away in 2009 from breast cancer. Towards the very end of her life, she started realizing the impact of the toxic products she was surrounded with in her home. Formaldehyde in nail polish, phthalates in personal care products – you name it. Unfortunately, it was too late to make a change and Jon was left to wade through the retail world and its numerous toxins on his own. When he smelled the pajamas his precious daughters opened on Christmas morning, he knew this would be the perfect place to start asking questions.
And that’s exactly what he did. He called Justice to ask for a full list of any ingredients sprayed on his childrens’ garments, since the website was no help (other than this “flame resistant” bullet point, which should be a HUGE red flag for consumers!)
“Flame resistant” is code for “sprayed heavily with bromide or chlorine-based endocrine disrupting chemicals.”
The widespread use of flame-retardant chemicals on clothing and furniture is one of the greatest cover-ups in US chemical history. Back in the days when commercial ads convinced people that cigarette smoking was healthy and “doctors love the smooth taste of Camels,” people started falling asleep on their couches while smoking. The cigarettes caused the couches to set on fire, and instead of banning the problem, tobacco companies lobbied to persuade the U.S. Government to require that every couch be doused in cancer-causing “flame retardants.” Although these retardants are claimed to make items burn slower than usual, when an object doused in them catches fire it gives off higher levels of carbon monoxide, soot, and smoke than untreated objects. Ironically, these three things are more likely to kill a person in a fire than burns. Unfortunately, female firefighters in California aged 40 to 50 are six times more likely to develop breast cancer than the national average. This is likely due to California’s early use of flame-retardant chemicals.
One of these flame-retardant chemicals, known as chlorinated tris (TDCPP), was removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s amid concerns that it may cause cancer. Or was it?
Brominated tris hit the market first. Environmental groups carried out studies, and found that it was a very strong mutagen and damaged DNA. So the chemical companies replaced it with the chlorinated version. More studies came out and showed that once again, chlorinated tris changed and damaged DNA. It was then banned… or so we thought.
Because Justice didn’t provide Jon with any answers, he sent the pajamas out himself for comprehensive lab testing. What he found was shocking.
Jon’s lab results revealed a long list of chemicals. Among these were two phthalates (diisooctyl adipate & di-(2-ethylhexyl) isophthalate), antimony, and the so-called ‘banned’ chlorinated tris (tri(2-chloroethyl) phosphate).
Jon decided to confront the CEO of Justice about his findings, and filmed the whole encounter:
The video says it all. “I had to send your pajamas to a lab, because you’re not very transparent,” explains Jon. “What did they find, but a chemical that was banned in the 70s!”
He asks CEO Michael Rayden if he thinks Justice should test the items they sell to young pubescent girls who are especially susceptible to hormone disrupters.
“We think we’re doing the right thing,” replies Michael. “But you’re not disclosing the chemicals,” Jon explains. The conversation ends with a telling, “Who is?”
An Unregulated Industry
This is not a problem unique to the Justice company. All clothing marketed as children’s sleepwear is required by law to contain flame retardants because of that senseless cigarette debacle in the 1970s. It’s estimated that 90 percent of Americans have some level of flame-retardant chemicals in their bodies, and these chemicals are also known to accumulate in breast milk. Many studies have linked them to human health risks including infertility, birth defects, along with liver, kidney, testicular, and breast cancers. Bromide-based retardants such as polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) are also linked to poorer attention, fine motor coordination, and cognition.
As you can see, no one is checking up on what flame retardant chemicals are being used. Banned chlorinated tris ended up in Justice’s pajamas, and who knows what’s lurking in other brands.
On top of that, the flame retardant class of chemicals is only the tip of the iceberg.
Studies carried out by Greenpeace analyzing clothing have found residual levels of laundry detergents, “nonylphenol ethoxylates” or NPEs, that have a hormonal effect on human beings (suspected to cause infertility). They also found residues of carcinogenic substances that come from azo pigments (synthetic chemicals used to achieve intense coloring).
For this reason, the use of a number of azo pigments has been restricted by the European Union.
As the movie notes, an additional ~1,500 chemical ingredients are banned by the European Union as well. Yet only 11 of those ingredients are banned in the United States. Formaldehyde, propylparaben, lead acetate and other carcinogenic chemicals still get by, reaching cosmetic shelves, clothing aisles and so much more. (The formaldehyde in particular is applied to clothing to keep any mildew from growing while in transit, something that could easily be achieved with natural plant chemicals such as essential oils).
So what can you do?
Washing new clothing is obviously a great first defense. This can greatly reduce formaldehyde, anti-fungal chemical agents, and azo pigments on the clothing. Unfortunately, the current CPSC standards state that the flame retardant quality must remain in effect for 50 washes in detergent, so one wash cycle won’t do the trick for tris or bromide.
Thus, the best way to avoid flame retardants is to not buy them. Read the tag on clothing and sleepwear. If the label (or website as shown earlier) says “flame resistant,” it’s a no go.
Christiane Huxdorff, a Greenpeace chemist, says there is no way to completely protect consumers from toxic chemicals in clothing. She suggests buying certified organic clothing or second-hand clothing, which likely have a reduced number of chemical residues since they have already been washed repeatedly.
These are the solutions that I have personally chosen myself. I get a lot of my clothing from brands like “Threads 4 Thought,” which you can find on Amazon at a wonderful price point. I live in their tees! I thrift shop as well, which Huxdorff mentioned does a lot of the work for you since the clothes have been washed so many times.
Like everyone, I’m not perfect, and I still purchase a few items from brands that aren’t 100% organic. When I do, I try to make sure that these brands are made in the EU since the European Union has such strict standards (as mentioned earlier).
Another tip is to not buy “sleepwear” specifically. As I just mentioned, the CPSC requires a large amount of flame retardants on childrens’ sleepwear because of the old fire laws. If you have children, buy them regular t-shirts and sweatpants to sleep in, since these won’t be required to include the large helping of bromide.
Above all, I don’t support companies like Justice that don’t disclose their chemical ingredients (and hide behind the excuse, “who does?”). I look for ethical brands that care about their consumers’ health. I can’t imagine how the CEO of Justice can simply brush off the presence of an endocrine-disrupting carcinogen in his clothing made specifically for children. It’s not fair to keep the parents out of the loop (they have enough to worry about in terms of toxic products with food alone!) and it’s definitely not fair to the kids. Something must change in this industry and I hope this documentary sparks it.
If you’d like to watch “STINK!” it’s available for rent or purchase on Vimeo.
References/Where to Read More
- 8 Flame Retardant Facts
- In utero and childhood polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) exposures and neurodevelopment
- New Exposure Biomarkers as Tools for Breast Cancer Epidemiology
- PBDE concentrations in women’s serum and fecundability
- Star Tribune: St. Paul firefighter seeks to limit coatings linked to cancer
- New York Times: A Flame Retardant That Came With Its Own Threat to Health
- WebMD: Signs of Toxic Flame Retardants Found in Americans
- UNH Research: Flame Retardants Found to Cause Metabolic, Liver Problems
- SFU study finds lower IQ in kids linked to mom’s exposure to flame retardants in pregnancy
- Greenpeace UK, Toxic chemicals are the little monsters in children’s clothing
- Deutsche Welle, Greenpeace finds toxic chemicals in children’s clothing of global fashion brands
- Consumer Reports News, Wash and then wear; unwashed clothes may have formaldehyde