Greenpeace Exposes Hazardous Chemicals in Popular Fashion

Popular fashion brands are selling clothing contaminated with hazardous chemicals that break down to form hormone-disrupting or even cancer-causing chemicals when released into the environment, according to a report released by Greenpeace.

“We found that 20 of the world’s favorite brands are making and selling clothes containing hazardous chemicals which contribute to toxic water pollution where the clothes are made and washed” said Greenpeace Toxics Campaigner John Deans. “The use of these toxic chemicals is an industry wide problem that is turning us all into fashion victims.”

The new investigatory report, “Toxic Threads – The Big Fashion Stitch-Up,” reveals the results of tests done on 141 clothing items and exposes the links between textile manufacturing facilities using hazardous chemicals and the presence of chemicals in final products.

The Greenpeace investigation found hazardous chemicals in clothes from all 20 of the leading fashion brands that were examined [1].  Zara, the leading brand of worlds largest fashion retailer, is alone in the study for having clothes that contain chemicals from certain dyes which can break down into cancer-causing amines [2].

One of the key findings is that all tested brands had at least several items containing NPEs, which break down into hormone disrupting chemicals, with the highest concentrations – above 1,000 ppm – in clothing items from Zara, Metersbonwe, Levi’s, C&A, Mango, Calvin Klein, Jack & Jones and Marks & Spencer (M&S). Other chemicals identified included high levels of toxic phthalates in four of the products, and traces of a cancer-causing amine from the use of certain azo dyes [3] in two products from Zara. The presence of many other types of potentially hazardous industrial chemicals were found in many of the items tested.  

“As the world’s largest fashion retailer Zara can lead the industry in change by  taking urgent, ambitious and transparent action to Detox their clothes and supply chains,” Deans said. “H&M and Marks & Spencer have committed to zero discharge of toxic chemicals by 2020. There is no reason Zara can’t do the same.”

The items tested were manufactured mainly in the Global South, and included jeans, trousers, t-shirts, dresses and underwear designed for men, women and children and made from both artificial and natural fibers. Hazardous chemicals are incorporated deliberately within the materials or left as unwanted residues remaining from their use during the manufacturing process.

“The textile industry continues to treat public waterways as little more than their private sewers. But our fashion doesn’t have to cost the earth: Our clothes don’t have to be manufactured with hazardous chemicals,” said Yifang Li, Detox campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia.

Greenpeace demands fashion brands commit to zero discharge of all hazardous chemicals by 2020 – as seven brands including H&M and Marks & Spencer have already done – and require their suppliers to disclose all releases of toxic chemicals from their facilities to communities at the site of water pollution.

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