I was one of those naive people who thought that manufacturers were not “allowed” to sell me any product that contained something that might harm me. As I quickly learned, that’s basically not true, especially with respect to fabrics. The EU is light years ahead of the US with their REACH program, designed to replace the most harmful chemicals with less toxic alternatives, but even that program focuses only on the highest volume chemicals used in industry.
Let me just remind you why knowing what chemicals are used for processing your fabrics is important.
Because fabrics – all fabrics – are by weight about 25% finishing chemicals (i.e. dyes, finishes, softeners, etc.) And because the textile industry uses over 2000 chemicals routinely, how do we know the mix in the fabrics we’re living with are safe?
Well, you can ask the store where you’re buying the shirts – but they’ll probably look at you blankly.
You can demand information from the manufacturer; Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

MSDS sheets are sometimes used to substantiate the “safety” of a chemical product by requiring the listing of chemical components by CAS number, which is a unique numeric identifier of a chemical substance which links to a wealth of information about that chemical. But the reality is that many of the chemicals used in textile industry have never been evaluated for toxicity, and therefore in the toxicity evaluation there is no data to refer to. In addition, proprietary components do not need to be listed. So the sheets have inaccurate or missing information. According to a 2008 study, between 30 – 100% of products analyzed contained chemicals not declared on an MSDS.

In looking at an MSDS sheet, you might also find that any hazard classification or risk phase has “not been established” and “the toxicological properties of this product have not been thoroughly investigated”, or the hazard classification might be identified as “non hazardous” according to various codes, such as the TSCA. These codes are woefully inadequate as is now known so to say that a chemical is non hazardous according to a code that dismisses all chemicals for which there is no data – well, you can see the problem.
There is also a lack of enforceable quality criteria, probably one of the reasons some of the sheets are of such poor quality.

And finally, even if you were able to find out which particular chemicals are used in a product, it’s possible that you won’t know what you’re looking at. For example, most everyone knows to avoid formaldehyde, but manufactures can legally use over 30 different trade names for formaldehyde.

Source material: Oecotextiles.

It makes you wonder how they all get away with it. Using untested combinations of toxic chemicals in a consumer product and where your skin interacts with these chemicals through sweating during active play. Though flawed Europe’s REACH regulations and MSDS are currently the best we have.

But all consumers even sponsored sport stars should now be asking apparel manufacturers to thoroughly test their chemicals and provide accurate information, and list all of the toxic chemicals they use to make their sports apparel.

Sports media should also feel an obligation to their readers when reviewing apparel and ask questions of sportswear brands which chemical ingredients they use?

It really is up to you and me to call for action.

Join our campaign ‘Test your chemicals'

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