Keep Your Clothes Safe

Toxins are lurking in nearly everything you can think of — and even in things you probably haven't thought of. Take your clothing, for example. Not only are there dangerous compounds added to fabrics to make them flame-retardant or stain-resistant, but if you dry clean your clothing, you are throwing even more chemicals into the mix.

Since 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Design for the Environment Garment and Textile Care Partnership has been working with the dry-cleaning industry to reduce exposures to percholorethylene, or perc, one of the most commonly used solvents. Perc is a nonflammable, synthetic solvent that is potentially harmful to the workers who are exposed to it, customers, and the environment. The solvent enters the body through drinking-water contamination, skin exposure, and most frequently, through inhalation. Some studies have shown that exposed workers have higher risks of skin, liver, and kidney damage, and possibly some types of cancer.

There has been a significant decline in the number of cleaners who use perc, and some efforts are underway to phase out perc altogether. The good news is that alternatives exist, such as professional wet-cleaning, which uses water as a solvent, and cleaning with liquid carbon dioxide. (There are other options being used that are less harmful than perc, but still have some associated risks, such as one that uses a synthetic petroleum solvent that is flammable and one that uses a silicone-based solvent that may pose other health issues.) There are growing numbers of "green" cleaners who use these better methods, so be sure to look for one in your community. If your cleaner claims to be environmentally-friendly, be sure to ask about the specific methods and chemicals used. Some dry cleaners will advertise as "green" or "organic" when their methods are anything but safe for the Earth.

Don't buy or wear clothing containing other toxins either:

Avoid flame-retardant clothing. Make sure your kids' pajamas do not include polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), chemicals linked to thyroid disruption, learning, hearing, and memory problems, decreased sperm count, and birth defects.

Skip stain-resistant and water-repellent clothing. No one wants to walk around wearing their lunch on their clothes, but the price you pay to prevent salad dressing or sauce splashes on your shirt or tie isn't worth it. Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) are synthetic chemicals designed to repel grease and water (a lot of treated water-repellent outerwear is coated with PFCs). One PFC compound used to make stain-resistant fabrics and believed to cause birth defects and cancer was found to be highly concentrated in the breast milk of nursing mothers. Choose alternatives to clothing with Teflon labels or items treated for water- or stain-resistance.

Wear organic clothing. Typically, cotton farmers use the most (and most damaging) pesticides. Seek out organic cotton especially for sheets and baby clothes. Your body, your kids' bodies, and the planet will be much happier.

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