The ABCs of fashion’s toxic chemicals A-M
From Azo dyes to Zinc Salt, these are the ABCs of fashion’s toxic chemicals. Here
are some profiles of the main chemicals that lurk in the fibres of our clothing.
This post will include A-M, and next week we’ll post N-Z. And now we begin…
Azo dyes are used to dye clothing and can produce dangerous substances called
aromatic amines. These substances are carcinogenic for humans and can also cause
allergic skin reactions. They are also toxic for ecosystems and cause neurosensory
damage and metabolic stress in animals.
Benzothiazole can be released from textile materials, penetrate through the
skin, and further enter the human body, which can cause health risks like endocrine
Chromium is used to tan leather. Workers in tanneries can experience
everything from rashes, permanent skin bleaching, nosebleeds and respiratory
problems to lung cancer and the alteration of genetic material as a result of
exposure to this chemical.
Dioxins - Chlorine reacting with “organic” compounds forms dioxins-a potent
carcinogen, reproductive and developmental toxicant. It alters the immune and
endocrine system and is also known as PBT’s (persistent bio- accumulative
Esters of ortho-phthalic acid (phthalates) are added plastics to increase
flexibility. They are on ZDHC’s Restricted Substances List. Phthalates can damage
the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system.
Formaldehyde is used in fabric processing and is known to cause cancer, skin
ulcerations, heart palpitations, eczema, asthma and many other serious health
Glycol Ethers have a wide range of uses including as solvents for finishing/
cleaning, printing agents, and dissolving/ diluting fats, oils, and adhesives and
they’re on ZDHC’s MRSL.
Hexa-chlorobenzene and other chlorobenzenes and chlorotoluenes can be used as
carriers in the dyeing process of polyester or wool. They can also be used as
solvents. In animals, exposure to high concentrations affects the brain, liver, and
kidneys. Unconsciousness, tremors, and restlessness can also occur.
Isomers of Alkylphenol (AP) and Alkylphenol Ethoxylates (APEOs) can be used
in dying processes and de- gumming for silk production. APEOs are very persistent
Benzo [ j ] fluoranthene 3,4 is a type of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon
(PAH) used in the outsoles of footwear and in printing pastes for screen prints. It
causes mutagenic toxicity in S. typhimurium TA98 and TA1000 which can ultimately
lead to cancer.
Michler’s Ketone is used to create blue and violet pigments and dyes for
textiles and leather.
Leuco base, specifically C.I. Basic Green 4 Leuco Base, is used to make green
Metals, specifically heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, and arsenic, are
associated with leather tanning. Michler’s Ketone, Leuco base, and heavy metals are
all listed as restricted substances on ZDHC’s MRSL.
Join us next week for N-Z of our toxic chemical list!
Plell (Jan, 2018).
Clothing Alliance (2016).
ZDHC (2019), “MRSL”.