30 01 2019

Researchers have come to a greater understanding of the multiple factors that influence obesity, which of course include our diet, but also our hormones, bio-individuality,  epigenetics and increasingly, the environment.  While lack of activity, poor diet, and genetics are frequently blamed for this problem, could there be other factors in the environment affecting our weight gain?

Many in the medical and exercise physiology communities remain wedded to poor diet and lack of exercise as the sole causes of obesity. However, researchers are gathering convincing evidence of chemical “obesogens”—dietary, pharmaceutical, and industrial compounds that may alter metabolic processes and predispose some people to gain weight.   Research in recent years has shown that an increase of chemicals in our diet , called obesogens, could be contributing to the obesity epidemic we are now facing.

Obesogens are a category of endocrine disruptors — chemicals that can interfere with your hormones. (1)


The Environmental Health Policy Institute (EHPI) states that certain endocrine disrupting chemicals affect how the body creates and stores fat, and which could be contributing to the current obesity  epidemic. There is a  growing list of obesogens: hidden chemicals that might be making your family gain unintended weight through a variety of means. Low doses of these endocrine disruptors can actually have a worse effects than high doses. So what are the actions and effects of these obesogens?

Some endocrine disruptors exert their effects by activating estrogen receptors, which can cause harmful effects in both women and men. Estrogen receptors are thought to be “promiscuous,” meaning that they will bind to anything that looks even remotely like an estrogen.  Some obesogens have not only been linked to obesity, but also to birth defects, premature puberty in girls, demasculinization in men, breast cancer and other disorders.

Unfortunately, many of these effects happen in the womb. For example, when pregnant women are exposed to these chemicals, their child’s risk of becoming obese later in life may increase. Obesity has risen steadily in the United States over the past 150 years, with a marked uptick in recent decades. In the United States today more than 35% of adults as well as 17% of children aged 2–19 years are obese.(2) Obesity plagues people not just in the United States but worldwide, including, increasingly, developing countries.  Even animals—pets, laboratory animals, and urban rats—have experienced increases in average body weight over the past several decades,(3) trends not necessarily explained by diet and exercise. In the words of Robert H. Lustig, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, “[E]ven those at the lower end of the BMI [body mass index] curve are gaining weight. Whatever is happening is happening to everyone, suggesting an environmental trigger.”

The idea that chemicals in the environment could be contributing to the obesity epidemic is often credited to an article by Paula Baillie-Hamilton, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2002.(4) Her article presented evidence from earlier toxicologic studies published as far back as the 1970s in which low-dose chemical exposures were associated with weight gain in experimental animals. At the time, however, the original researchers did not focus on the implications of the observed weight gains.

The role of environmental chemicals in obesity has garnered increased attention in academic and policy spheres, and was recently acknowledged by the Presidential Task Force on Childhood Obesity and the National Institutesof Health (NIH) Strategic Plan for Obesity Research. “Over the past ten years, and especially the past five years, there’s been a flurry of new data,” says Kristina Thayer, director of the Office of Health Assessment and Translation at the National Toxicology Program (NTP). “There are many studies in both humans and animals. The NTP found real biological plausibility.” In 2011 the NIH launched a 3-year effort to fund research exploring the role of environmental chemical exposures in obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and metabolic syndrome.(5)

The main role of fat cells is to store energy and release it when needed. Scientists also now know that fat tissue acts as an endocrine organ, releasing hormones related to appetite and metabolism. Research to date suggests different obesogenic compounds may have different mechanisms of action, some affecting the number of fat cells, others the size of fat cells, and still others the hormones that affect appetite, satiety, food preferences, and energy metabolism. Some obesogenic effects may pass on to later generations through epigenetic changes, heritable modifications to DNA and histone proteins that affect when and how genes are expressed in cells, without altering the actual genetic code.

Bruce Blumberg, a biology professor at the University of California, Irvine, coined the term “obesogen” in 2006 when he discovered that tin-based compounds known as organotins predisposed laboratory mice to gain weight.(6) “If you give tributyltin [TBT] to pregnant mice, their offspring are heavier than those not exposed,” he says. “We’ve altered the physiology of these offspring, so even if they eat normal food, they get slightly fatter.” (7)


Human exposure and health-effect data are relatively rare for organotins, but studies have documented the presence of these compounds in human blood, milk, and liver samples. Although phased out as a biocide and marine antifouling agent, TBT is still used as a wood preservative and, along with dibutyltin, as a stabilizer in polyvinyl chloride; it pollutes many waterways and contaminates seafood.

Animal studies have also implicated another suspected obesogen: bisphenol A (BPA), which is found in medical devices, in the lining of some canned foods, and in cash register receipts – as well as in polyester fabrics. (8) “BPA reduces the number of fat cells but programs them to incorporate more fat, so there are fewer but very large fat cells,” explains University of Missouri biology professor Frederick vom Saal, who has studied BPA for the past 15 years.“In animals, BPA exposure is producing in animals the kind of outcomes that we see in humans born light at birth: an increase in abdominal fat and glucose intolerance.”(9)

Still another widespread obesogen is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a potential endocrine disruptor. “Pretty much everyone in the U.S. has it in their blood, kids having higher levels than adults, probably because of their habits. They crawl on carpets, on furniture, and put things in their mouth more often,” explains NIEHS biologist Suzanne Fenton. PFOA is a surfactant used for reduction of friction, and it is also used in nonstick cookware (i.e., Teflon), Gore-Tex™ waterproof clothing, Scotchgard™ stain repellent on carpeting, mattresses, and microwavable food items. In 2005 DuPont settled a class-action lawsuit for $107.6 million after its factory was found to have tainted  Parkersburg, WV  drinking water supplies with PFOA. (10)

Another obesogen is phthalates.  Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastics soft and flexible.  They are found in various products, including food containers, toys, beauty products, pharmaceuticals, shower curtains and paint.  They are in the vast majority of textile printing inks. These chemicals can easily leach out of plastics and contaminate foods, the water supply and even the very air we breathe.

A Swedish study found that children can absorb airborne phthalates from plastic floor material through the skin and respiratory tract.  In a study by the CDC, most Americans tested positive for phthalate metabolites in their urine (11).  Like BPA, phthalates are endocrine disruptors, affecting the hormonal balance in your body.

Phthalates may be contributing to increased susceptibility to weight gain by affecting hormone receptors called PPARs, which are involved in metabolism.  Studies in humans have shown that phthalate levels in the body are associated with obesity, increased waist circumference and insulin resistance.

t appears that men are particularly susceptible. Studies show that phthalate exposure in the womb leads to genital malformations, undescended testicles and low testosterone levels.

Many of these obesogens – pesticides, BPA, PFOAs, Phthalates, TBTi, PCBs – are used regularly in textile production and they remain residual in the fabrics.  Phthalates were found in all the garments tested by Greenpeace (Greenpeace bought a range of clothing from 19 countries around the world) from 1.4 mg/kg to 200,000 mg/kg – or more than 20% of the weight of the sample.(12)

Another good reason to seek out minimally Oeko-Tex 100 fabric, or, better, GOTS certified fabric.

[1] Janesick, AS, Blumberg B:   “Obesogens: an emerging threat to public health”, Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2016 May;214(5):559-65. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2016.01.182. Epub 2016 Jan 29.

(2) Ogden CL, et al. Prevalence of obesity and trends in body mass index among US children and adolescents, 1999–2010. JAMA.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jama.2012.40 [online 17 Jan 2012]

(3) Klimentidis YC, et al. Canaries in the coal mine: a cross-species analysis of the plurality of obesity epidemics. Proc R Soc Biol Sci. 2011;278(1712):1626–1632.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2010.1890.

(4) Baillie-Hamilton, PF, “Chemical toxins: a hypotheses to explain the global obesity epidemic”, J Althern Complement Med. 2002; 8(2): 185-192. http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/107555302317371479

(5) National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “Obesogens”, https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/obesity/obesogens/index.cfm

(6)  Blumberg, B, Grun, F; “Environmental obesogens:  organotins and endocrine disruption vis nuclear receptor signaling”; Endocrinol. 2006; 147(6): S50-S55; http://dx.doi.org/10.1210/en.2005-1129

(7) Ibid.

(8) Somm E, et al. “Perinatal  bisphenol A alters adipogenesis in the rat”; Environ Health Perspect. 2009; 117(10): 1549-1555. http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.11342

(9) Philpott, T; “Can BPA make you fat?” Mother Jones, May, 2012.

(10) DuPont Reaches Settlement with Class Action Group (press release).  Wilmington, DC and Parkersburg WV:  Dupont (2 Sept 2004). http://www2.dupont.com/Media_Center/en_US/news_releases/2004/nr09_09_04.html

(11) B.C. Blount et al; “Levels of seven urinary phthalate  metabolites in a human reference population”, Environ Health Perspect; 2000 Oct, 108(10): 978-982.

(12)  Pedersen, H; Hartmann, J, “Toxic Textiles by Disney”; Greenpeace; Brussels, April 2004







27 11 2018

A company that sells fabric on line has a post about why they don’t offer Oeko-Tex certification.  Their post is woefully incorrect.

We do not name the company, but call it FabricsellerA. Their post, titled,   Why Oeko-Tex certification is NOT Relevant to American Made Fabrics,  (the entirety of which you can read below at the end of this post) claims that, in America, for American-made fabrics, Oeko-Tex is irrelevant because the US government, primarily in the form of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)   ensures that products made in the USA

“ have met the most stringent, comprehensive American health and safety standards.”  …”which makes them even more rigorous than the OEKO-TEX test criteria. This is why OEKO-TEX certification is not required in the United States. These strict measures guarantee the highest levels of safety, not only for the consumers who use the fabrics, but also for the health and safety of those who make them, and environmental protection…In addition to (our) ongoing mission and commitment to bringing you safe, high-quality products for your use, our fabrics are, of course, CPSIA Compliant. They meet the highest standards of health and safety in the world.”

FabricsellerA is most thoroughly incorrect.

We find that many people really want to believe that America’s product safety and toxicity standards are the most stringent in the world. This is very, very far from the truth. Our protections from exposure to toxic chemicals is completely inadequate.

First we will give you a  visual of just a few of the thousands of chemicals regularly used in textile production with unsavory to scary toxicity profiles, and how the US government and the Oeko-Tex standard compare in protecting us.  Then we will recount in detail how the CPSC,  OSHA, and the EPA  fail to protect us as well as Oeko-Tex does. It is not even close.

First the visual:


Chemical or Chemical Class

Does Oeko-Tex limit or prohibit? Does the US Government limit or prohibit?
·       All flame retardants Yes, prohibited No
·       Carcinogenic and allergy-inducing dyes Yes No
·       Chlorinated phenols Yes No
·       Chloro-organic benzenes and toluenes Yes No
Heavy metals:  Lead Yes YES, but limit is 100 times weaker than Oeko-Tex
Heavy metals:  Antimony Yes No
Heavy metals:  Cadmium Yes No
Heavy metals:  Arsenic Yes No
·       Organotin compounds (TBT and DBT) Yes No
·       Formaldehyde Yes No
Pthalates, like BPA Yes, the entire class of many chemicals No, not in fabric.  It does regulate 5 chemicals in this huge class but not in fabric – only in toys and child care products like teething rings.

There are lots more chemicals limited by Oeko-Tex which are not regulated by the US government.  We’ve tried to count, but many of the limits apply to whole classes of chemicals, so we would be under-reporting, but our count ignoring classes (which would greatly increase the number) is 300.

The grand total of chemicals prohibited or limited by the CPSC is two: lead and eight forms of phthalates, which by our count methodology would count as one.

But for a closer examination about why we may want to insist on Oeko-Tex (or, better yet, GOTS, the Global Organic Textile Standard) certification, because of the government failing at this job, let’s start with a look at the CPSC.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)is the agency that regulates the sale and manufacture of consumer products, and ultimately certifies a fabric as compliant and approved for sale in the United States, in accordance with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).

Before 2014, CPSC regulated only one chemical of the extremely long list of unsavory and toxic chemicals used in the process of fabric production which can, and often do, remain in fabric:  lead.  In 2014 Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement act, which banned three chemicals in the class of phthalates (DEHP, DBP, and BBP) and suggest an expert panel study the banning of two others. In 2017 the panel did ban five others, concluding the ten year effort to ban a small subset of phthalates. (Other very toxic phthalates, including BPA, and the chemical cousins used as substitutes for BPA, are not banned by the feds. Eleven states have bans for baby bottles, and similar products.)

Children’s clothing cannot contain more than 100 parts per million.  Oeko Tex restricts lead to 1 part per million; and Oeko-Tex restricts lead from all fabrics, not just in children’s clothing.

The CPSC does regulate eight phthalates in children’s toys and child care items — like teething rings — but not in fabric in children’s clothes. Children’s toys and care items cannot contain concentrations of more than 0.1% of diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP), dinpentyl phthalate (DPENP), dinhexyl phthalate (DHEXP), or dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP).  These kinds of chemicals are usually used to soften plastic and make it more pliable. Exposure to these chemicals by children has been linked with health problems like hormone disruption and damage to reproductive development, among other serious issues.

The CPSIA’s permanent prohibition concerning DEHP, DBP, and BBP remains in effect. Thus, effective April 25, 2018, any children’s toy or child care article that contains concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of the following phthalates is prohibited:

  • di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP),
  • dibutyl phthalate (DBP),
  • benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP),
  • diisononyl phthalate (DINP),
  • diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP),
  • di-n-pentyl phthalate (DPENP),
  • di-n-hexyl phthalate (DHEXP), and
  • dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP).

Greenpeace has done work that points out the very large concentrations of phthalates in many popular Disney children’s clothes.  You can read Leigh’s blog on this issue at https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/?s=Toxic+textiles+

The manufacturers may need to limit the few pthalates above, but phthalates are a very large class of chemicals and chemical cousins which are unsavory and can be used interchangeably in their place.

Now on to OSHA. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)is a part of the US Department of Labor.  OSHA is concerned with worker safety, not product safety. OSHA actually requires that any polyester or nylon fabric or any natural fiber fabric have a flame retardant treatment so as not to cause a burn on an employee’s skin. To claim that applying a flame retardant finish adheres to the highest safety standards for consumers or workers is woefully incorrect. The FR chemical profiles are so unsavory that you would never choose to bring them into your home.

We have written about FR chemicals at length in our blog, but allow us to remind you briefly:  To make an intrinsically flame retardant synthetic fiber fabric,  the most common method is to add  brominated flame retardants (BFR’s) to the polymer during the melt phase.     BFR’s are a huge chemical class.  Brominated flame retardants are persistent, accumulate in the food chain, and toxic to both humans and the environment and are suspected of causing neurobehavioral effects, endocrine disruption, cancer and other degenerative diseases.

I’d like to nominate flame retardant chemicals used in our furniture, fabrics and baby products – as well as a host of other products – as being in the running for the new asbestos.  These chemicals are called halogenated flame retardants, such as Polybrominated diphenyl ethers – commonly known as PBDE’s.  Women in North America have 10 to 40 times the levels of the PBDEs in their breast milk, as do women in Europe or in Asia. And these chemicals pass through the placenta and are found in infants at birth, making a double dose of toxins for young children when they are most vulnerable.  When tested in animals, fire retardant chemicals, even at very low doses, can cause endocrine disruption, thyroid disorders, cancer, and developmental, reproductive, and neurological problems such as learning impairment and attention deficit disorder.   In humans, these chemicals are associated with reduced IQ in children, reduced fertility; thyroid impacts, undescended testicles in infants (leading to a higher cancer risk), and decreases in sperm quality and function. Ongoing studies are beginning to show a connection between these chemicals and autism in children.  Pregnant women have the biggest cause for concern because animal studies show negative impacts on brain development of offspring when mothers are exposed during pregnancy. And bioaccumulating PBDEs can stay in our bodies for more than a decade.

A study published last week in the Environmental Health Perspectives  points to California’s unique furniture flammability standard called Technical Bulletin 117, or TB117, as the major reason for high fire retardant levels in California. The California standard, passed in 1975, requires that polyurethane foam in upholstered furniture be able to withstand an open flame for 12 seconds without catching fire. Because there is no other state or federal standard, many manufacturers comply with the California rule, usually by adding flame retardants with the foam.

The startling and disturbing result of the published study in Environmental Health Perspectives is that Latino children born in California have levels of PBDE in their blood seven times higher  than do children who were born and raised in Mexico. In general, residents of California have higher rates of PBDE in their blood than do people in other parts of the United States.

A home can contain a pound or more of fire retardants that are similar in structure and action to substances such as PCBs and DDT that are widely banned. They leak out from furniture, settle in dust and are taken in by toddlers when they put their hands into their mouths. A paper published in Environmental Science & Technology also finds high fire retardant levels in pet dogs. Cats, because they lick their fur, have the highest levels of all.(5)  PBDE use has increased 40% from 1992 to 2003, and is forecast to grow by at least 3% per year from 2011; they are ubiquitous in consumer products.

One troubling example is chlorinated Tris, a flame retardant that was removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s largely based on research done by Dr. Arlene Blum, a biophysical chemist, after it was found to mutate DNA and identified as a probable human carcinogen.  In the journal Environmental Science and Technology, new research published in 2011 shows that chlorinated Tris was found in more than a third of the foam samples tested – products such as nursing pillows, highchairs, car seats and changing pads.

Tris is now being used at high levels in furniture being sold in California to meet the California standard.

The benefits of adding flame retardants have not been proved. Since the 1980s, retardants have been added to California furniture. From 1980 to 2004, fire deaths in states without such a standard declined at a similar rate as they did in California. And when during a fire the retardants burn, they increase the toxicity of the fire, producing dioxins, as well as additional carbon monoxide, soot and smoke, which are the major causes of fire deaths.

So why are we rolling the dice and exposing our children to substances with the potential to cause serious health problems when there is no proven fire safety benefit?

Under current law, it is difficult for the federal Environmental Protection Agency to ban or restrict chemicals – current federal oversight of chemicals is so weak that manufacturers are not required to label products with flame retardants nor are they required to list what chemicals are used. Even now, the agency has yet to ban asbestos!

“We can buy things that are BPA free, or phthalate free or lead free. We don’t have the choice to buy things that are flame-retardant free,” says Dr. Heather Stapleton, an assistant professor of environmental chemistry at Duke University. “The laws protect the chemical industry, not the general public.”  What makes them so bad?

  1. they are persistent:  they bioaccumulate, or build up, in fish and cats and Orcas and foxes – and people.  Our bodies cannot get rid of these contaminates, so our levels just increase over time.  We eat PBDEs when they contaminate our food, particularly meat and dairy products. They latch on to dust and other particles, so we breathe them in, or ingest them when dust settles on food or when children stuff their fingers into their mouths. Scientists look for PBDEs in breast milk because the chemicals stick to fat. In 1999, Swedish researchers reported that PBDE levels in women’s breast milk had increased 60-fold between 1972 and 1997.  Similar dramatic increases were documented in California harbor seals, ringed seals from the Arctic, gull eggs from the Great Lakes and human blood from Norway.   PBDE pollution has been found essentially everywhere scientists have looked: in the tissues of whales, seals, birds and bird eggs, moose, reindeer, mussels, eels, and fish; in human breast milk, hair, fat and blood; in hot dogs and hamburgers and the cheese we put on them;  in twenty different countries and remote areas such as the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Ocean, on top of mountains and under the sea.
  2. they are fat seeking: this causes them to magnify up the food chain, increasing in concentration at each successively higher  level. Once PBDE’s are released into the environment, they invariably find their way into humans, including pregnant women, where they pass  to the developing fetus in utero or through the breast milk to the nursing infant.  As evidence of fetal exposure, the infant at birth has levels of PBDE’s that are up to 25% of maternal levels.  And researchers have found that children’s PBDE levels are about 2.8 times higher than their mothers. Research in animals shows that exposure to brominated fire retardants in-utero or during infancy leads to more significant harm than exposure during adulthood, and much lower levels of PBDEs are needed to cause harm to infants and children than to adults.
  3. they are endocrine disruptorsMany of the known health effects of PBDEs are thought to stem from their ability to disrupt the body’s thyroid hormone balance, which plays an essential role in brain development.  Laboratory animals showed deficits in learning and memory with exposure to PBDE’s.   Studies of mice showed that a single exposure to PBDEs caused permanent behavioral aberrations that worsened as the mice got older.  One study, for instance, found that women whose levels of T4 measured in the lowest 10 percent of the population during the first trimester of pregnancy were more than 2.5 times as likely to have a child with an IQ of less than 85 (in the lowest 20 percent of the range of IQs) and five times as likely to have a child with an IQ of less than 70, meeting the diagnosis of “mild retardation.”

Personal choices can make a difference. Buying furniture, fabric, cell phones or computers made without PBDEs is definitely a vote for a non-toxic future. But personal choices can only go so far – and the crisis is great.   PBDEs, like other contaminant issues, are at least as much a social as a personal issue and challenge. You can help your kids not only with your buying habits, but also by modeling social action for environmental change, and by campaigning for a non-toxic future, the kind of future where mother’s milk will regain its purity.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) controls chemicals partially through use of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which was amended in 2016.

Although the law contains the words “Toxic Substances” the TSCA law  does not separate chemicals into categories of toxic and non-toxic.  In fact, of the 60,000 chemicals in use in the USA in 1976, the year of the passing of the law, all were grandfathered in as safe to use. These are known as “existing chemicals”.

  1. We assume the TSCA is testing and regulating chemicals used in the industry..It is not:

Of the more than 60,000 existing chemicals  in use prior to 1976, most were “grandfathered in”; only 263 had been tested for safety and only 5 were restricted.  Today over 80,000 chemicals are routinely used in industry, and the number which have been tested for safety in tests required by the EPA has not materially changed since 1976.  So we cannot know the risks of exposing ourselves to certain chemicals.  The default position is that no information about a chemical = no action. (Thank goodness for the European Union. The great progress in the past two decades in determining toxicity and safety of many chemicals is due to their action.)

The chemical spill which occurred in West Virginia in 2014 was of “crude MCHM”, or 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, one of the chemicals that was grandfathered into the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.   That means that nobody knows for sure what that chemical can do to us.

Carcinogenic effects? No information available.

Mutagenic effects? No information available.

Developmental toxicity? No information available.

Lack of information is the reason the local and federal authorities were so unsure of how to advise the local population about their drinking water supplies.  (And by the way, in January, 2014, a federal lawsuit was filed in Charleston, WV, which claims that the manufacturer of MCHM hid “highly toxic and carcinogenic properties” of components of MCHM, hexane and methanol, both of which have been tested and found to cause diseases such as cancer.)

I found claims he EPA has been successful in restricting only nine chemicals of the 60,000 that were grandfathered in as permissible “existing Chemicals”  (PCBs, chlorofluorocarbons, dioxin, asbestos, and hexavalent chromium) in its 38-year history, with the ban on asbestos being overturned in 1991.

Until 2016 none of those chemicals were required to be tested for safety. The 2016 revision of the law requires some existing chemicals to be tested for safety, and gives deadlines for the evaluation. The first ten chemicals to be assessed as specifically required by the 2016 revisions are:

  • Asbestos
  • 1-Bromopropane
  • Carbon Tetrachloride
  • 1,4 Dioxane
  • Cyclic Aliphatic Bromide Cluster (HBCD)
  • Methylene Chloride
  • N-Methylpyrrolidone
  • Perchloroethylene
  • Pigment Violet 29
  • Trichloroethylene

But don’t hold your breath.  Take one of the above list:  Methylene Chloride.  The EPA assessed it beginning in 2014 and proposed a ban – at least from paint removers – in 2017, stating that the chemical posed “unnecessary risks” to people. The European Union had taken this step in 2011.  The EPA keeps delaying the ban, and has weakened it by removing one of 2 toxic chemicals in the proposed ban to just one.

Slate has an informative account of the current issue, “A Chemical in Paint Remover is A Known Killer: Why Won’t the EPA Ban It?” in which you can get a taste of the many years the EPA can delay an action or change one, even after announcing and committing to it:


The Environmental Defense Fund has a good blog whose almost every entry is a repudiation of what FabricSellerA  claims about American manufacture of products being safe because of the federal government. The EDF has an interesting story about PCB’s, which Congress specifically outlawed in  1979; and how action and inaction by the EPA has allowed variants of PCBs to be still used and sold in the US now, even after the 2016 TSCA revisions:


  1. We assume that the TSCA requires manufacturers to demonstrate that their chemicals are safe before they go into use. It does not:
    1. The EPA requires a “Premanufacture Notification” of a new chemical, and no data of any kind is required.   The EPA receives between 40-50 each week and 8 out of 10 are approved, with or without test data, with no restrictions on their proposed use. As 3M puts it on their PMN forms posted on EPA’s web site, “You are not required to submit the listed test data if you do not have it.”
    2. The TSCA says the government has to prove actual harm caused by the chemical in question before any controls can be put in place.  The catch-22 is that chemical companies don’t have to develop toxicity data or submit it to the EPA for an existing product unless the agency finds out that it will pose a risk to humans or the environment – which is difficult to do if there is no data in the first place.  Lack of evidence of harm is taken as evidence of no harm.
    3. We assume that manufacturers must list all ingredients in a product, so if we have an allergy or reaction to certain chemicals we can check to see if the product is free of those chemicals. It does not.

The TSCA allows chemical manufacturers to keep ingredients in some products secret.   Nearly 20% of the 80,000 chemicals in use today are considered “trade secrets”.  This makes it impossible for consumers to find out what’s actually in a product.  And there is no time limit on the period in which a chemical can be considered a trade secret.

These limitations all help to perpetuate the chemical industry’s failure to innovate toward safer chemical and product design.  It’s one of the reasons the USA is one of the few nations in the world in which asbestos is not banned.  The EPA has issued regulations to control only 9 chemicals since the enactment of TSCA and the EPA has assessed the risks of only about 2% of the chemicals in use.

On June 22, 2016, President Obama signed the bill that reforms the Toxic Substances Control Act.  It was widely agreed that the TSCA is not doing the job of protecting us, and that the United States is in need of profound change in this area. The chemicals market values function, price and performance over safety, which poses a barrier to the scientific and commercial success of green chemistry in the United States and could ultimately hinder the U.S. chemical industry’s competitiveness in the global marketplace as green technologies accelerate under the European Union’s requirements.

we presumably would have an EPA with a mandate to review all chemicals in commerce, the authority to readily get the data it needs, and the resources required to execute the kind of comprehensive prioritization scheme ACC proposes.

So far the improvements in the 2016 revision have not resulted in any safety testing being accomplished, but rather the establishment of a horrendous bureaucracy for evaluation which chemicals need to be evaluated after the first 30 which were mandated.

We cover above the chemicals outlawed in various products by US regulators. There are not many – and most are not regulated in the end usage of fabric at all.   Here are the requirements for fabrics – mostly applying to children:

  • Section 101(a) of the CPSIA restricts children’s products, including children’s apparel and sleepwear, to a lead content limit of 100 parts per million (ppm). In addition, the use of paint or similar surface coating on children’s apparel and sleepwear must not exceed a lead content limit of 90 ppm. That compares to the Oeko-Tex 100andGOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) requirement that the lead content be 2 ppm.
  • Section 108 of CPSIA states that children’s toys and child care articles cannot contain more that 0.1% of six phthalates – DEHP, DBP, BBP limits are applicable to both toys and child care items while DINP, DIDP, and DnOP limits are applicable only to toys that can be placed in the mouth and are intended for children 3 and younger. Although children’s clothing does not need to be certified to this requirement, children’s sleepwear or bibs (child care article) intended for children age 3 years or younger and any children’s textile product that is intended for use in play (toy) must be certified to the phthalates requirements. In comparison to Oeko-Tex 100 and GOTS, all phthalates are prohibited.
  • Textiles used in apparel must meet class 1 or 2 flammability requirements. Children’s sleepwear must be flame resistant and self-extinguish when exposed to a small ignition source. The rules cover all children’s sleepwear between size 9 months and size 14. The fabric, seams, trim, and garments must pass certain flammability tests or the garment must be tight-fitting as defined by specified dimensions. ( See our blog post on flame retardants , published in May, 2013) But this rule means that toxic chemicals are often added to children’s sleepwear – not kept out of it.

What does this mean? It means that the United States has basically no protection for consumers in terms of textiles.

So, I have many bones to pick with FabricsellerA, who ignores the weak protections that the federal government provides to protect us from the real safety issues from fabric production and chemicals residual in the fabric that is everywhere around us.  The United States has precious few protections for consumers or for workers regarding fabric safety issues while Oeko-Tex does an excellent job of protecting consumers of fabric, though not workers.

The Unabridged Post: from FabricsellerA:

FabricsellerA consumers are savvy consumers. We often receive inquiries from our customers asking if FabricsellerA fabrics are OEKO-TEX certified. They are not OEKO-TEX certified, and here’s why this is a good thing:

 OEKO-TEX® is an international association headquartered in Europe, comprised of independent research and test laboratories – focused on the textile industry – which certifies that fabrics meet safety standards for consumer use. OEKO-TEX 100 is the organization’s global testing and certification program that ensures textile products are tested for more than 300 harmful chemicals.

 It’s often difficult for resellers of fabrics made in China, India, or other countries, to discern how the fabrics are being made, and what chemicals are being used in their manufacture. That’s why it’s important that the fabrics they sell have an OEKO-TEX certificate or equivalent; this indicates that the fabrics meet strict health and safety standards, and are safe to use. For the benefit of consumers there is an online directory that lists all products, companies, and brands that are OEKO-TEX certified

 While OEKO-TEX certification is a stringent process, many of the requirements for this certification are not applicable to our American-made products. That’s why FabricsellerA fabrics are not OEKO-TEX certified—because our fabrics are made right here in the USA . We adhere to the even more demanding American health and safety standards, and ensure that no harmful chemicals are used in the production of our fabrics.

 In the United States, all the fabric manufacturers, including FabricsellerA, produce their fabrics under the safety guidelines and regulations set forth by several government agencies. These agencies include the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

 The CPSC is the agency that regulates the sale and manufacture of consumer products, and ultimately certifies a fabric as compliant and approved for sale in the United States, in accordance with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). The CPSIA compliance certification ensures that the products you use every day have met the most stringent, comprehensive American health and safety standards.

 Fabrics made or sold in America must not only meet CPSIA requirements, but manufacturing must comply with EPA, OSHA, and other regulations, which makes themeven more rigorous than the OEKO-TEX test criteria. This is why OEKO-TEX certification is not required in the United States. These strict measures guarantee the highest levels of safety, not only for the consumers who use the fabrics, but also for the health and safety of those who make them, and environmental protection.

 In addition to FabricsellerA’s ongoing mission and commitment to bringing you safe, high-quality products for your use, our fabrics are, of course, CPSIA Compliant. They meet the highest standards of health and safety in the world.


[1]On average, 78% of the weight of a fabric is the fiber it purports to be, and 22% is residual chemicals.  W. Baumann, K. Lacasse, Textile Chemicals: Environmental Data and Facts, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2004

[2]If you don’t know what flame retardants can do to you, please see our blog https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/?s=pbde

 (3) Some of the more common BFR’s are: Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE’s):  besides PBDE, the group includes DecaBDE, OctaBDE and PentaBDE (neither Octa nor Penta is manufactured anymore); Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) – also not manufactured anymore; Brominated cyclohydrocarbons

[4]Martin, Andrew, “Chemical Suspected in Cancer is in Baby products”, The New York Times, May 17, 2011.

[5]Vernier, Marta and Hites, Ronald; “Flame Retardants in the Serum of Pet Dogs and in their Food”, Environmental Science and Technology, 2011, 45 (10), pp4602-4608. http://pubs.acs.org/action/doSearchaction=search&searchText=PBDE+levels+in+pets&qsSearchArea=searchText&type=within



What is the benefit of PLA?

9 10 2018

Much of this article came from the Smithsonian Magazine written by Elizabeth Royte – to whom we owe our gratitude.

Near Blair, Nebraska is the largest lactic acid plant in the world.  Into one end goes corn, and out the other comes white pellets, which some say is the future of plastic.  The substance is PLA – Polymerized Lactic Acid, or polylactic acid.

Globally, bioplastics (of which PLA is a member) make up nearly 331,000 tons (300,000 metric tons) of the plastics market.[1]  That may sound like a lot, but it only accounts for less than 1 percent of the 200 million tons (181 million metric tons) of synthetic plastics the world produces each year. Still, the bioplastics market is growing by 20 to 30 percent each year.[2]  In the US, plastics take up 25% of landfilles by volume.[3]

Even the Biodegradable Products Institute notes that NOTHING biodegrades in a landfill because nothing is supposed to. Furthermore the Biodegradable Products Institute notes that “Uncontrolled biodegradation in a landfill can cause ground water pollution, methane gas emissions and unstable sub-soil conditions.”

The benefit of PLA is that is that it’s made from Midwestern corn, not Middle East oil[4]. It’s a renewable resource, but more than 93% of the corn produced in the USA is genetically modified in some way.  NatureWorks (owned by Cargill, the world’s largest corn merchant) insists that you don’t have to worry about consuming genetically modified proteins because these are destroyed in the transformation from plant to PLA plastic.[5]  NatureWorks, acknowledging some of those criticisms, points out that the corn it uses is low-grade animal feed not intended for human use. And it processes a small amount of non-genetically engineered corn for customers who request it.[6]

Producing PLA uses 65% less energy than producing conventional plastics, according to an independent analysis commissioned by NatureWorks. It also generates 68% fewer greenhouse gases.  And, if incinerated, bioplastics don’t emit toxic fumes like their oil-based counterparts.

PLA does releases toxicfumes known as VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). Not all VOCs are actually toxic, but some may be, especially for younger users. Before this becomes a serious health issue, a new study has analysed the exact quantities of toxic VOCs – as well as potentially dangerous nanoparticles – in order to assess the potential health risks. The new study, presented by Dr. Fabrizio Merlo and Dr. Eng. Stefano Mazzoni, starts off from other previous research conducted in the early 90’s, which demonstrated that during the fusion and processing of plastic materials, several toxic particles are released as gases, including ammonia, cyanidric acid, phenol, and benzene, among others.  PLA is a corn-based polymer and is not exempt from dangerous emissions, especially if extruded at temperatures higher than 200°C.  Among the effects that the absorption of toxic VOC’s and nanoparticles can cause to humans, the most common are pulmonary pathologies, such as bronchitis, tracheitis, asthma. In some cases, these substances can also cause certain types of cancers, so this is not something to be taken lightly. [7]

Another problem with PLA is that , as one of the producers, Joe Selzer a vice president at Wilkinson Industries, puts it:  “I had my takeout box in my car in the sun and it melted into a pancake!” So PLA  can’t be used for such things as containers made for holding hot liquids.   He continues: “Our number-one concern is PLA’s competitive price, and then its applications. After that comes the feel-good.”  In the beginning, it cost $200 to make a pound of PLA, now it’s less than $1.[8]

PLA produces the greenhouse gas methane when it decomposes so composting isn’t a perfect disposal method.

But the biggest problem with PLA is it’s biodegradability:  PLA is said to decompose into carbon dioxide and water in a “controlled composting environment” in fewer than 90 days. What’s a controlled composting environment? Not your backyard bin.   It’s a large facility where compost—essentially, plant scraps being digested by microbes into fertilizer—reaches 140 degrees for ten consecutive days. So, yes, as PLA advocates say, corn plastic is “biodegradable.” But in reality very few consumers have access to the sort of composting facilities that can make that happen. NatureWorks has identified 113 such facilities nationwide—some handle industrial food-processing waste or yard trimmings, others are college or prison operations—but only about a quarter of them accept residential foodscraps collected by municipalities.

Moreover, PLA by the truckload may potentially pose a problem for some large-scale composters. Chris Choate, a composting expert at Norcal Waste Systems, headquartered in San Francisco, says large amounts of PLA can interfere with conventional composting because the polymer reverts into lactic acid, making the compost wetter and more acidic. “Microbes will consume the lactic acid, but they demand a lot of oxygen, and we’re having trouble providing enough,” he says. “Right now, PLA isn’t a problem,” because there’s so little of it, Choate says.  (NatureWorks disputes that idea, saying that PLA has no such effect on the composting processes.)

To plastic processors, PLA in tiny amounts is merely a nuisance. But in large amounts it can be an expensive hassle. In the recycling business, soda bottles, milk jugs and the like are collected and baled by materials recovery facilities, or MRFs (pronounced “murfs”). The MRFs sell the material to processors, which break down the plastic into pellets or flakes, which are, in turn, made into new products, such as carpeting, fiberfill, or containers for detergent or motor oil. Because PLA and PET mix about as well as oil and water, recyclers consider PLA a contaminant. They have to pay to sort it out and pay again to dispose of it.

Wild Oats accepts used PLA containers in half of its 80 stores. “We mix the PLA with produce and scraps from our juice bars and deliver it to an industrial composting facility,” says the company spokesman Sonja Tuitele. But at the Wild Oats stores that don’t take back PLA, customers are on their own, and they can’t be blamed if they feel deceived by PLA containers stamped “compostable.” Brinton, who has done extensive testing of PLA,says such containers are “unchanged” after six months in a home composting operation. For that reason, he considers the Wild Oats stamp, and their in-store signage touting PLA’s compostability, to be false advertising.[9]

Despite PLA’s potential as an environmentally friendly material, it seems clear that a great deal of corn packaging, probably the majority of it, will end up in landfills. And there’s no evidence it will break down there any faster or more thoroughly than PET or any other form of plastic. Glenn Johnston, manager of global regulatory affairs for NatureWorks, says that a PLA container dumped in a landfill will last “as long as a PET bottle.” No one knows for sure how long that is, but estimates range from 100 to 1,000 years.

Environmentalists have other objections to PLA. Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, questions the morality of turning a foodstuff into packaging when so many people in the world are hungry. “Already we’re converting 12 percent of the U.S. grain harvest to ethanol,” he says. The USDA projects that figure will rise to 23 percent by 2014. “How much corn do we want to convert to nonfood products?” In addition, most of the corn that NatureWorks uses to make PLA resin is genetically modified to resist pests, and some environmentalists oppose the use of such crops, claiming they will contaminate conventional crops or disrupt local ecosystems. Other critics point to the steep environmental toll of industrially grown corn. The cultivation of corn uses more nitrogen fertilizer, more herbicides and more insecticides than any other U.S. crop; those practices contribute to soil erosion and water pollution when nitrogen runs off fields into streams and rivers.

Eric Lombardi, president of the Grassroots Recycling Network and a leader in the international Zero Waste movement, takes a nuanced view of PLA’s progress. He says it’s “visionary” even to think about biologically based plastic instead of a petroleum-based one. True, he says, there are problems with PLA, “but let’s not kill the good in pursuit of the perfect.”

So in the end, what have we learned?

  • It produces no toxic compounds when burned, unlike many plastics.
  • Like conventional plastic, it’s not likely to break down in a landfill.
  • It produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
  • Also like conventional plastic, it doesn’t break down quickly on land or in the ocean.
  • And finally, it only can be composted in commercial-grade composting plants, while failing to break down in a backyard compost pile.

Until the kinks are worked out on the disposal and reprocessing end, PLA may not be much better than the plain old plastic it’s designed to make obsolete.


[1]”Bioplastics Frequently Asked Questions.” European Bioplastics. June 2008. (Nov. 6, 2008)http://www.european-bioplastics.org/index.php?id=191


[3] Royte, Elizabeth; Smithsonian Magazine, August 2006

[4] Wood, Shelby,  The Oregonian; posted October 27, 2008   https://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2008/10/pla_corn_plastic_problems.html


[6] Ibid.

[7] https://3dprintingindustry.com; accessed on 9.28.18

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.



Why are “endocrine disruptors” a concern?

19 06 2018

We published this in March, 2015, but it’s worth going over again.

In 2012, Greenpeace analyzed a total of 141 items of clothing, and found high levels of phthalates in four of the garments and NPE’s in 89 garments – in quantities as high as 1,000 ppm – as well as a variety of other toxic chemicals. Phthalates and NPE’s are among the chemicals known as “endocrine disruptors” (EDCs) – chemicals which are used often and in vast quantities in textile processing.

The endocrine system is the exquisitely balanced system of glands and hormones that regulates such vital functions as body growth (including the development of the brain and nervous system), response to stress, sexual development and behavior, production and utilization of insulin, rate of metabolism, intelligence and behavior, and the ability to reproduce. Hormones are chemicals such as insulin, thyroxin, estrogen, and testosterone that interact with specific target cells.  The endocrine system uses these chemicals to send messages to the cells – similar to the nervous system sending electrical messages to control and coordinate the body.

Diabetes, a condition in which the body does not properly process glucose, is an endocrine disease, as is hypoglycemia and thyroid cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 29.1 million people have diabetes.[1] The three types of diabetes are a good illustration of the two main ways that something can “go wrong” with hormonal control in our bodies. In type I diabetes, a per pancreas is unable to make insulin. Without insulin, the liver never “gets the message” to take glucose out of the bloodstream, so blood glucose remains too high, while the stores of glucagon in the liver are too low. In type II diabetes, the person’s pancreas is making enough insulin, but the insulin receptor sites on the liver cells are “broken” (possibly due to genetic factors, possibly do to “overuse”) and cannot “get the message.” Because the liver is unable to receive the instructions (despite the presence of lots of insulin), it does not take glucose out of the bloodstream, so blood glucose remains too high, while the stores of glucagon in the liver are too low. In type III diabetes (AKA Alzheimer’s Disease)[2], it is the neurons in the brain, specifically, which “don’t get the message,” (though it sounds like researchers have yet to determine whether that’s due to lack of the brain-produced insulin upon which they depend, or whether that’s due to receptors on the neurons that either are or become “broken”) and thus, cannot take in the sugar that they need, with the result that, without an alternative fuel source such as medium-chain triglycerides, the neurons will starve.

endocrine disruptor

Over the past 60 years, a growing number of EDC chemicals have been used in the production of almost everything we purchase. They have become a part of our indoor environment, found in cosmetics, cleaning compounds, baby and children’s toys, food storage containers, furniture and carpets, computers, phones, and appliances. We encounter them as plastics and resins every day in our cars, trucks, planes, trains, sporting goods, outdoor equipment, medical equipment, dental sealants, and pharmaceuticals. Without fire retardants we would not be using our computers or lighting our homes. Instead of steel and wood, plastics and resins are now being used to build homes and offices, schools, etc.  A large portion of pesticides are endocrine disruptors.

What this constant everyday low-dose exposure means in terms of public health is just beginning to be explored by the academic community. We have learned over time that many chemical substances can cause a range of adverse health problems, including death, cancer, birth defects, and delays in development of cognitive functions. For instance, it is well established that asbestos can cause a fatal form of lung cancer, thalidomide can cause limb deformities, and breathing high concentrations of some industrial solvents can cause irreversible brain damage and death. Only relatively recently have we learned that a large number of chemicals can penetrate the womb and alter the construction and programming of a child before it is born. Through trans-generational exposure, endocrine disruptors cause adverse developmental and reproductive disorders at extremely low amounts in the womb, and often within the range of human exposure.

Recent research is giving us a new understanding of EDCs since Dr. Theo Coburn wrote Our Stolen Future.  Thanks to a computer-assisted technique called microarray profiling, scientists can examine the effects of toxins on thousands of genes at once (before they could study 100 at a time at most). They can also search for signs of chemical subversion at the molecular level, in genes and proteins. This capability means that we are beginning to understand how even small doses of certain chemicals may switch genes on and off in harmful ways during the most sensitive period of development. In a recent talk at the National Academy of Sciences, Linda Birnbaum, the head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program, called toxicogenomics—the study of how genes respond to toxins—the “breakthrough” that pushed the study of poisons beyond the “obvious things,” that is, the huge doses that led to “death or low birth weight.”

  1. Age at time of exposure is critical. There is even a new terminology to explain the consequences of exposure to EDCs: “the fetal basis of adult disease”, which means that the maternal and external environment, coupled with an individual’s genes, determine the propensity of that individual to develop disease or dysfunction later in life.  This theory, known as the “developmental origins of health and disease,” or DOHad, has blossomed into an emerging new field. DOHad paints a picture of almost unimaginably impressionable bodies, responsive to biologically active chemicals until the third generation.
  2. The developmental basis of adult disease also has implicit in its name the concept that there is a lag between the time of exposure and the manifestation of a disorder. In other words, the consequences of exposure may not be apparent early in life.
  3. Exposures don’t happen alone – other pollutants are often involved, which may have additive or synergistic effects.[3]
  4. Even infinitesimally low levels of exposure – or any level of exposure at all – may cause endocrine or reproductive abnormalities, particularly if exposure occurs during a critical developmental window[4]. Surprisingly, low doses may even exert more potent effects than higher doses.
  5. EDCs may affect not only the exposed individual but also the children and subsequent generations.[5]

TEDX (The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Inc.) is the only organization that focuses primarily on the human health and environmental problems caused by low-dose and/or ambient exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals.


Carol Kwiatkowski, director of TEDX

TEDX’s work is prevention driven, and it is the only environmental organization that focuses on the problems associated with endocrine disruption attributable to synthetic chemicals found in the general environment. While there are other national, international, and local organizations that address the public health and environmental consequences of toxic chemicals in the environment, none of them expressly emphasize endocrine disruption. By mainly focusing on substances in the environment that interfere with development and function throughout all life stages, TEDX has one of the most complete databases in the world on this topic, available for those concerned about public health and environmental quality. This database was developed because traditional toxicological protocols have used high doses on fully developed tissues and individuals that heretofore missed the consequences of chemical substances on developing tissues.

TEDX is unique because it focuses on the damaging activity of chemicals on biological systems from an entirely new approach. This new approach focuses on the effects of very low and ambient levels of exposure on developing tissue and resulting function before an individual is born, which can lead to irreversible, chronic disorders expressed at any time throughout the individual’s life.

Endocrine disruption takes into consideration the vulnerability of every individual in the population during their most vulnerable life stages. By providing this unique perspective on the actions of endocrine disruptors, TEDX fills in the very large gap in public health protection that traditional toxicology and government regulatory agencies do not fill. Drawing upon its computerized databases on endocrine disruption and coordination with researchers in the field of endocrine disruption, TEDX provides the very latest summaries of the state of knowledge and its meaning for human health and the environment.

 As the TEDX website states:   “The human health consequences of endocrine disruption are dire. Yet, no chemical has been regulated in the U.S. to date because of its endocrine disrupting effects – and no chemical in use has been thoroughly tested for its endocrine disrupting effects.. The U.S. government has failed to respond to the evolving science of endocrine disruption. While much remains to be learned in regard to the nature and extent of the impact of endocrine disruptors on human health, enough is known now to assume a precautionary approach should be taken. TEDX provides concerned persons and organizations with a science-based foundation for individuals to act and promote responsive public policy-making. Moreover, as federal government resources devoted to research on endocrine disruption have diminished due to budget cuts, TEDX must assume an even more prominent role in developing and disseminating information on the human and environmental impacts of endocrine disruption.”

To date, no chemical in use has been thoroughly tested for its endocrine disrupting effects. Traditional toxicological testing protocols were not designed to test for endocrine disruption and to test at ambient or low exposure levels.

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/statsreport14/national-diabetes-report-web.pdf

[2] De la Monte, Suzanne, and Wands, Jack R., “Alzheimer’s Disease is Type 3 Diabetes – Evidence Reviewed”, J. Diabetes Sci Technol 2008 Nov; 2(6): 1101-1113

[3] Crews D, Putz O, Thomas P, Hayes T, Howdeshell K 2003 Animal models for the study of the effects of mixtures, low doses, and the embryonic environment on the action of endocrine disrupting chemicals. Pure and Applied Chemistry, SCOPE/IUPAC Project Implications of Endocrine Ac- tive Substances for Humans and Wildlife 75:2305–2320

[4] Sheehan DM, Willingham EJ, Bergeron JM, Osborn CT, Crews D 1999 No threshold dose for estradiol-induced sex reversal of turtle embryos: how little is too much? Environ Health Perspect 107:155–159

[5] Anway MD, Skinner MK 2006 Epigenetic transgenerational actions of endocrine disruptors. Endocrinology 147: S43–S49

Nichlos Kristof gets it!

24 04 2018

Nicholas Kristof had an editorial in the New York Times on February 25, 2018. This is a reproduction of his editorial:

 Our bodies are full of poisons from products we use every day. I know – I’ve had my urine tested for them. Surprised? So was I when I had my urine tested for these chemicals. (A urine or blood test is needed to confirm whether you have been exposed.)

Let me stress that mine should have been clean.

Almost a decade ago, I was shaken by my reporting! on a class of toxic chemicals called endocrine disruptors. They are linked to cancer and obesity and also seemed to feminize males, so that male alligators developed stunted genitalia and male smallmouth bass produced eggs.

In humans, endocrine disruptors were linked to two-headed sperm and declining sperm counts. They also were blamed for an increase in undescended testicles and in a birth defect called hypospadias, in which the urethra exits the side or base of the penis rather than the tip. Believe me, the scariest horror stories are found in urology journals. If you’re a man, you don’t wring your hands as you read; you clutch your crotch.

So I’ve tried for years now to limit my exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Following the advice of the President’s Cancer Panel, I eat organic to reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors in pesticides. I try to store leftover meals in glass containers, not plastic. I avoid handling A.T.M. and gas station receipts. I try to avoid flame-retardant furniture.

Those are all common sources of toxic endocrine disruptors, so I figured that my urine would test pristine. Pure as a mountain creek.

                        Here are 12 chemicals found in everyday products:

Chemical Details Found in products like:
Antimicrobials Can interfere with thyroid and other hormones Colgate Total toothpaste, soap, deodorant
Benzophenones Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen Sunscreen, lotions, lip balm
Bisphenols Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen Protective lining for canned goods, hard plastic water bottles, thermal paper register receipts.
1,4-Dichlorobenzene Can affect thyroid hormones and my increase risk of cancer Mothballs, toilet deodorizers
Parabens Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen Cosmetics, personal care products like shampoos, hair gels, lotions
Phthalates Can disrupt male reproductive development and fertility


Vinyl shower curtains, fast food, nail polish, perfume/cologne
Fragrance Chemicals Can exacerbate asthma symptoms and disrupt natural hormones. Perfume/cologne, cleaning products, dryer sheets, air fresheners
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) Can affect hormones, immune response in children, and may increase risk of cancer. Scotchgard and other stain-resistant treatments, fast-food wrappers.
Flame Retardants Can affect neurodevelopment and hormone levels, and may increase risk of cancer Nail polish, foam cushioning in furniture, rigid foam insulation.

The Silent Spring Institute near Boston, which studies chemical safety, offers a “Detox Me Action Kit” to help consumers determine what harmful substances are in their bodies. Following instructions, I froze two urine samples (warning my wife and kids that day to be careful what food they grabbed from the freezer) and Fed-Exed them off for analysis.

By the way, the testing is for women, too. Men may wince as they read about miniaturized alligator penises, but endocrine disruptors have also been linked to breast cancer and gynecological cancers. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warns women that endocrine disruptors can also cause miscarriages, fetal defects and much more.[1]

As I waited for the lab results, I continued to follow the latest research. One researcher sent a bizarre video of a mouse exposed to a common endocrine disruptor doing back flips nonstop, as a kind of nervous tic.

Finally, I heard back from Silent Spring Institute. I figured this was a report card I had aced. I avoid all that harmful stuff. In my columns, I had advised readers how to avoid it.

Sure enough, I had a low level of BPA, best known because plastic bottles now often boast “BPA Free.” But even a diligent student like me failed the test. Badly. I had high levels of a BPA substitute called BPF. Ruthann Rudel, a toxicologist who is the head of research at Silent Spring, explained that companies were switching to BPF even though it may actually be yet more harmful (it takes longer for the body to break it down). BPF is similar to that substance that made those mice do back flips.

“These types of regrettable substitutions — when companies remove a chemical that has a widely known bad reputation and substitute a little-known bad actor in its place — are all too common,” Rudel told me. “Sometimes we environmental scientists think we are playing a big game of whack-a-mole with the chemical companies.”

Sigh. I thought I was being virtuous by avoiding plastics with BPA, but I may have been causing my body even more damage.

My urine had an average level of an endocrine disruptor called triclosan, possibly from soap or toothpaste. Like most people, I also had chlorinated phenols (perhaps from mothballs in my closet).

I had a high level of a flame retardant called triphenyl phosphate, possibly from a floor finish, which may be “neurotoxic.” Hmm. Whenever you see flaws in my columns, that’s just my neurotoxins at work.

                            My lab results: high levels of FOUR chemicals were found

1,4- DICHLOROBENZENE Can affect thyroid hormones and may increase risk of cancer
ANTIMICROBIALS Can interfere with thyroid and other hormones
BISPHENOLS Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen
FLAME RETARDANTS Can affect neurodevelopment and hormone levels, and may increase risk of cancer
BENZOPHENONES Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen
PARABENS Can mimic natural hormones like estrogen

Notes: Benzophenones and parabens were also found, but in lower levels than in most Americans. Tests for phthalates and fragrance chemicals were not included.

Will these endocrine disruptors give me cancer? Make me obese? Make my genitals fall off? Nobody really knows. At least I haven’t started doing random back flips yet.

The steps I took did help, and I recommend that others consult consumer guides such as at ewg.org to reduce their exposures to toxic chemicals. Likewise, if I had downloaded the Detox Me smartphone app, I would have known to get rid of those mothballs, along with air fresheners and scented candles. (Science lesson: A less fragrant house means cleaner pee.)

Yet my takeaway is also that chemical industry lobbyists have rigged the system so that we consumers just can’t protect ourselves adequately.

“You should not have to be a Ph.D toxicologist to be safe from so many of the chemicals in use,” Dr. Richard Jackson of U.C.L.A. told me. “So much of what we are exposed to is poorly tested and even less regulated.”

The Trump administration has magnified the problem by relaxing regulation of substances like chlorpyrifos, Dow Chemical’s nerve gas pesticide. The swamp has won.

So the saddest lesson is that even if you understand the peril and try to protect yourself and your family — as I strongly suggest you do — your body may still be tainted. The chemical companies spend tens of millions of dollars lobbying and have gotten the lightest regulation that money can buy.

They are running the show, and we consumers are their lab mice.

[1] “Exposure to Toxic Environmental Agents”, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, University of California San Francisco Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment.

On Microfibers

19 03 2018

 Microfibers are, as the name implies, synthetic fibers that are far smaller in diameter than “typical fibers.” As an example, they are 100 times finer than a human hair, one-third of the diameter of cotton, one-fourth the diameter of wool, and one-half the diameter of silk.

The measurement that is used for measuring such fibers is “denier.” Silk has a denier of 1.25, and for a synthetic fiber to be deemed a “microfiber,” it has to be less than 0.9 denier. Most microfibers used for upholstery are .4 to .5 denier.

Microfiber is a textile made from ultrafine synthetic yarns, usually polyester and nylon. Polyester is derived from crude oil. It is also the terminal product in a chain of very reactive and toxic precursors. Most are carcinogens; all are poisonous. And even if none of these chemicals remain entrapped in the final polyester structure (which they most likely do), the manufacturing process requires workers and our environment to be exposed to some or all of the chemicals. There is no doubt that the manufacture of polyester is an environmental and public health burden that we would be better off without.

What does all of that mean in terms of our health?  Just by looking at one type of cancer, we can see how our lives are being changed by plastic use:

  • The connection between plastic and  breast cancer was first discovered in 1987 by
    research scientists Dr. Ana Soto and Dr. Carlos Sonnenschein at Tufts Medical School. In the midst of their experiments on cancer cell growth, endocrine-disrupting chemicals leached from plastic test tubes into the researcher’s laboratory experiment, causing a rampant proliferation of breast cancer cells. Their findings were published in Environmental Health Perspectives (1991). [1]
  • Spanish researchers, Fatima and Nicolas Olea, tested metal food cans that were lined with plastic. The cans were also found to be leaching hormone disrupting chemicals in 50% of the cans tested. The levels of contamination were twenty-seven times more than the amount a Stanford team reported was enough to make breast cancer cells proliferate. Reportedly, 85% of the food cans in the United States are lined with plastic. The Oleas reported their findings in Environmental Health Perspectives(1995). [2]

And nylon is not such a great thing to use with polyester. It too is derived from crude oil. The New York Times reported in 1991 that nitrous oxide is increasing in the earth’s atmosphere at a rate of about 0.2 percent a year. In the journal Science, two chemists reported that nitrous oxide is generated and emitted during the manufacture of nylon. [3] The nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas that is 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and because of it’s long life (120 years) it can reach the upper atmosphere and deplete the layer of stratospheric ozone, which is an important filter of UV radiation. In fact, during the 1990s, nitrous oxide emissions from a single nylon plant in the UK were thought to have a global warming impact equivalent to more than 3% of the UK’s entire CO2 emissions.[4]   It’s also a very energy-hungry process, which contributes to environmental degradation and global warming. Very large quantities of water are used to cool the fibers, leading to environmental contamination and pollution.

And it’s a plastic, which contributes to our body burden.

  • Chemicals added to plastics are absorbed by human bodies. Some of these compounds have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.
  • Plastic doesn’t biodegrade – it sticks around in the ecosystem long after natural fibers have returned to the soil.
  • Plastic debris, laced with chemicals and often ingested by marine animals, can injure or poison wildlife.
  • Floating plastic waste, which can survive for thousands of years in water, serves as mini transportation devices for invasive species, disrupting habitats.
  • Plastic buried deep in landfills can leach heavy metals, including antimony, that spreads into groundwater. If plastics are burned for energy, the chemicals are released into the air.
  • Around 4 percent of world oil production is used as a feedstock to make plastics, and a similar amount is consumed as energy in the process.

But let’s say that you did use a microfiber. What then? According to CLEANFAX, a website for cleaning and restoration professionals, “considering the strength and durability of the two dominant fibers used in microfibers (polyester and nylon) one might consider microfibers to be an “idiot proof” fabric. This, unfortunately, is not the case.” The information below was taken from the CLEANFAX website:

A polyester microfiber may adsorb more than seven times its weight in water. This makes microfiber a great cleaning cloth, but a “spill magnet” when used for upholstery fabrics.

Microfibers will hold great volumes of dried sugary materials from spills, and may require heavy preconditioning and hot water extraction to completely remove such materials.

Polyester is also very oil loving; thus hair and body oils will take thorough preconditioning to break these oily films down so that they can be emulsified and flushed from the fabric.

Microfibers will flatten out and become permanently distorted in heavy usage areas, and care must be taken to open available vacuum relief valves when using a truckmount to clean microfiber upholstery; otherwise, permanent wand marks could be caused by excessive vacuum, especially if the cleaning tool has sharp, angular edges and lips.

Microfibers are also heat-sensitive, and ultra-high temperatures could potentially create nap distortion, depending on the type of cleaning tool and spray nozzle being used. To be on the safe side, keep cleaning temperatures at the machine below 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Due to the need to restore as much of the product’s soft hand as possible, microfiber fabrics should be rinsed with acidic rinse agents or clear water, rather than with extraction detergents.

Likewise, solvent-based protectors are preferable to water-based products, as water-based protectors also likely stiffen the hand of this otherwise soft fabric.

Don’t let the relatively “easy care” advantages of microfibers lull you into carelessness.

From a different website, microfibers tend to create a lot of static, making it hard to move around on furniture. They are also a magnet for pet hair and clothing fibers.

Formaldehyde is found in microfibers, and emits the volatile organic compound as a gas at room temperature.

And finally, 85% of the human-made material found on the shorelines of the world are microfibers. Researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara found that, on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash. It also found that older jackets shed almost twice as many fibers as new jackets. “These microfibers then travel to your local wastewater treatment plant, where up to 40% of them enter rivers, lakes and oceans,” according to findings published on the researchers’ website.

[1] http://www.bu-eh.org/uploads/Main/Soto%20EDs%20as%20Carcinogens.pdf

[2] http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/zwa-reports-are-plastic-products-causing-breast-cancer-epidemic-76957597.html

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/1991/02/26/science/science-watch-the-nylon-effect.html

[4] Fletcher, Kate, Sustainable Fashion and Textiles, Earthscan, 2008, Page 13

Why does the Cape Town water crisis impact the textile industry?

7 03 2018

This blog post was taken largely from Leon Kaye’s article in The Guardian newspaper.

Day zero for the Cape Town water crisis is predicted to fall on May 11, 2018, according to an analysis of current usage patterns and dam levels. The drought-stricken city will have to cut off taps to all homes and most businesses, leaving nearly all of the city’s 4 million residents without access to running water.

Residents will then have to go to roughly 200 collection points scattered across the city to collect strictly rationed water. People will be allowed just 25 liters — about 6.5 gallons — of water a day. That’s all the water they’ll have for drinking, bathing, flushing toilets, and washing their hands. Some services, like hospitals, clinics, and schools will be exempt from the cutoff and will continue to have access to running water. But the overwhelming majority of the megacity’s residents will have to work with their tiny daily allotment.

Experts say the possibility of civil unrest is high.

Water doesn’t get the respect it deserves.  Did you know that more than one-quarter of all bottled comes from a municipal water supply – the same place that tap water comes from.  And since the average faucet releases 2 gallons of water per minute, you can save up to 4 gallons of water every morning by turning off the tap while you brush your teeth.  There is about the same amount of water on Earth now as there was a million years ago.

And – it takes 2,641 gallons to produce one pair of jeans!  Textiles have one of the largest water footprints on the planet; some say it is the #1 industrial polluter of water on the planet (after agriculture).

Dyeing poses an especially big problem. Dye houses in India and China are notorious for not only exhausting local water supplies, but for dumping untreated wastewater into local streams and rivers.  Up until now the effluent from dye houses that can often be seen in rivers flowing through the textile manufacturing areas of India, China and elsewhere is a result of unabsorbed dyes, chemicals and heavy salts that are used during the dyeing process.

The industry’s challenge is to adopt more water-friendly technologies to dye cotton and polyester, the two most mass marketed textiles. So what can companies do to mitigate the effects of this timeless, yet toxic, dyeing process?

“There is no silver bullet,” said Kathy Hattori, who runs a natural dye manufacturing company Botanical Colors. “There are so many ways to reduce the impact of textile dyeing,” she continued, “because, for example, it’s not realistic to eliminate a product such as polyester.” Hattori explained many factories could start by tackling the wasteful dye-to-water ratio. A 1-to-30 ratio is common.

Reaching a 1-to-10 dye-to-water ratio is an accomplishment, Hattori explained, and when asked whether the manufacturer would then simply need more dye, she replied with an emphatic “you don’t”. Diluting a dye, she countered, simply means wasting more water: much of the answer in solving the waste involved in dyeing textiles lies in a factory’s mechanisation. Various fabrics require different manufacturing processes, so one best technology does not exist for low-water or waterless dyeing.

Waterless dyeing should be the textile industry’s holy grail, but widespread adoption is years away. In Hattori’s view, polyester is the prime candidate because dyeing performs best in an airless environment with pressurized high heat, allowing dyes to disperse throughout the fabric. Coloring fabric using this waterless method could be feasible for polyester; natural fibers such as cotton and wool, however, can become damaged undergoing a similar process. Cotton comprises 45% of all fibers used within the global textile industry, so a sharp reduction in water consumption would be a huge process improvement for this sector.

Other than nebulous talk about partnering with NGOs to reduce water consumption, few large companies currently consider new waterless or near waterless technologies. Kevin Brigden, a scientist at the Greenpeace Research Laboraties, says while waterless dye technologies do help to solve many problems, “dyes and possibly some other chemicals are still used, and it is important that hazardous chemicals are avoided.” “If there is a waste stream – even at a much smaller volume – that needs to be dealt with appropriately.”

“Right now there is very low uptake of use of these technologies,” says Andrew Filarowski, technical director at the Society of Dyers and Colorists. The textile industry is viewed as low-cost entry into industrialization of countries, meaning that lower-cost technologies are used even when superior technology is available.  The most significant problem, says Filarowski, is consumer expectations for inexpensive clothing. The textile industry is consumer-driven and unless customers are willing to pay more for products made with waterless dye technology, the industry isn’t going to adopt it.  “The only way to produce clothing cheaply is to do it abroad without any real control and certainly not by using the most modernised and sustainable technology.”

One that does is Adidas. During a telephone conversation earlier this summer, Alexis Olans, a senior director of the company’s sustainability programs, explained the challenges and successes of what Adidas brands its “DryDye” technology.

Instead of water, Adidas’ supplier uses compressed and pressurized carbon dioxide as the agent to disperse dye within polyester fabric. The CO2, which takes on liquid-like properties, is contained in stainless steel chambers. After the dyeing cycle the CO2 becomes gasified, and dye within the cotton fibers condenses as it separates from the gas. The CO2 is then recycled and pumped back into the dyeing vessel. Adidas claims using CO2 is a safe and environmentally friendly option because the gas is contained and can be used repeatedly without the risk of any emissions.

Although dyeing using compressed CO2 has existed for over 25 years, Adidas claims a supplier in Thailand operates the only factory with the ability to scale this technology. So can this process transform the textile industry? Not quite yet according to Christian Schumacher, an expert in textile dyes and chemicals, who points out that investment in such equipment is still costly.

Nevertheless, assumptions that water is integral to dyeing are crumbling. As Olans says: “Do we really need water to dye? We discovered an answer that not only solved the intended goal, eliminating water, but also had multiple positive side effects, including a reduction in energy and chemicals.”

Adidas’ work is a step, but the recent announcement it would manufacture one million yards of waterless dyed fabric is still a relative drop in the ocean. And among large global brands and retailers, few have aggressively ventured into waterless dyeing technology.

Why are the world’s largest apparel companies not doing more?

The answer in part lies in Tirapur, India, home to scores of factories and workshops where workers dye materials for t-shirts and other garments marketed around the world. Local dye houses have long dumped wastewater into the local river, rendering groundwater undrinkable and local farmland ruined. Despite tougher regulations, a watchful local press, and the closure of companies in non-compliance, water pollution has festered. The city’s 350,000 residents, not multinational textile companies, pay the price.

The global demand for cheap clothing will push dye houses to simply react to local regulations by moving operations to another city. Moral outrage will not convince many leading clothing manufacturers to change their ways; as long as companies do not pay a price for the land and water their suppliers poison, watch for the excessive use and abuse of water to dye clothing to continue.

What can be done in the meantime?  This article by the National Resources Defense Council shows many ways for textile mills to save water.