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Toxic Fibers and Fabrics

BY: Sonali Bhawsar | Category: Toxicology | Submitted: 2011-03-01 19:37:01
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Article Summary: "Clothing made from natural fibers like silk or cotton is traditional, ecofriendly and not harmful to wear by any means but synthetic or manmade fibers such as polyester, nylon and rayon have been found responsible for several negative effects on health and environment. Chemicals used in the manufacture of synthetic dyes are foun.."

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Toxic fibers and fabrics

Humans only wear clothes; therefore the textile manufacturing, different types and effects of clothing and related things are just meant for human beings. Fibers are derived from natural sources like plants and animals or synthesized artificially to be woven into fabrics. These fabrics are used in draperies, bedding, furnishings for houses, automobiles, offices, schools and hospitals. Fabrics are also used for personal applications like designer wear, fashion costumes and in the making of seasonal clothes. Clothing made from natural fibers like silk or cotton is traditional, ecofriendly and not harmful to wear by any means but synthetic or manmade fibers such as polyester, nylon and rayon have been found responsible for several negative effects on health and environment. Chemicals used in the manufacture of synthetic dyes are found to be main culprits. They have been linked to immunity damage, cancer, hormonal dysfunction and behavioral problems. Various types of chemicals are used for dying the textiles and also to manufacture shiny, wrinkle free, fire retardant, non-iron, static resistant, stain resistant and insect repellent clothes. Natural dyes are available but they are costly as compared to synthetic colors and no effective natural process is known to produce wrinkle free or fire retardant textile. Let's know some toxic about synthetic fibers.

Polyester: It is a choice of fiber for making apparel fabrics like Terylene, Dacron, Lycra or vycron. It is popular for its wrinkle and wear/tear resistance, water repellence and speedy drying up properties. It is used in manufacture of diapers, sanitary pads, sportwares, mattresses and waterproof clothing. It is petroleum based polymer and synthesized by polymerization of ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid reaction mixture. Both parent compounds are carcinogenic. Since the monomers are toxic, the toxicity of their polymerization product should not be ignored. Monomeric forms are not completely removed but they are trapped in the fibers during manufacturing process. They find easy entry into the body via moist skin. Polyester emits phytoestrogens which act as endocrine disruptors and also promote skin and certain types of cancers. It has been discovered that cancer cells multiply quickly in polyester test tubes than glass tubes. It is responsible for acute skin rashes, redness, itching, dermatitis, on prolonged contact; it is causative agent of chronic and acute respiratory tract infection. Polyester clothing is associated with reproductive disorders like reduced sperm count; it is also known to generate static electrostatic field and behavioral changes. Polyesters are not only toxic to human but also a serious environmental pollutant. It is hard to recycle and biodegrade. Production is energetically very expensive and significant air pollutants are emitted during its production. Effluent disposal and its toxic effects on soil or aquatic fauna and flora is also an issue of high concern.

Nylon: Nylon textiles are manufactured from petrochemicals and thus are non-ecofriendly. Fabric is heavily treated with caustic soda, sulfuric acid, formaldehyde, to avoid shrinkage; bleaching agents, softener agents like chloroform, limonene, linalool, pentene, benzyacetate and terpineol; all these chemicals in the form of residues are retained by fabric even after complete manufacture. Formaldehyde in fabric is emitted by body heat and causes skin allergies, eye watering and it is also a potent carcinogen. Fabric softener agents cause hyper skin pigmentation, dermatitis and central nervous system dysfunction such as disorientation, dizziness, headache and spine pain. Nylon fabric also emits greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide and harmful volatile organic compounds.

Rayon: Viscose or rayon is derived from cellulose of wood pulp or bamboo. Cellulose is natural starting material but it is processed by chemical treatments involving carbon disulphide, sulfuric acid, chlorine and caustic soda. Carbon disulphide is released into the environment in gaseous form alongwith other 3 hazardous chemicals. Their combined toxic effects are carried on heart, skin and nervous system. Carbon disulphide poisoning is similar to alcohol intoxication causing restlessness, unconsciousness, depression and sometimes death. Carbon disulphide is also emitted from rayon fabric. Ill health effects like nausea, vomiting, headache, chest and muscle pain and insomnia can be observed in people who wear rayon clothing regularly. Other toxicity effects are tissue necrosis, anorexia, polyneuropathy, paralysis, insomnia and Parkinson's disease. Chronic toxic effects on aquatic system, death or low growth of plants, shortened life span and reproductive effects in animals are also associated with toxicity caused by rayon factory effluents.

Health care practitioners, textile manufactures and designers must be aware of potential health hazards created by fibers and fabrics. They can develop safer alternatives for sustainable and healthy clothing material.

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Comments on this article: (32 comments so far)

Comment By Comment
2013-03-21 13:19:07 587
Really? Polyester clothing causes all of that? Since you failed to post any sources besides your own website, a lot of this seems like made-up scareces (that's using 'scare' tactics without sources). If it did cause cancer or reduced sperm count, there would be hard science to back up these claims and it would be removed from the market, but I assume you're talking about polyester made in factories in third-world countries that are sold by knock-offs for really cheap, and can be found scarcely in first-world countries, as I'm sure most retailers/companies follow strict EPA/enviro-laws set by textile companies to adhere to standards to reduce or rid of these toxic components in the process.
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2013-03-26 02:07:21 591
Terry, I must say that you have wasted your thoughts on comparing clothes from third world and first world countries! Second thing is that, if you still have a mind set up and time for such discrimination then it would be better you can debate with yourself. I also suggest especially to you to take industry survey of third and first world countries and also of second world countries if they do exist. All the best! Anyway, thanks for reading this article.
2013-06-21 06:22:39 648
this article is not to be taken seriously, nylon, polyester and even cotton is treated with chemicals. the claims in this article is unsubstantiated and should be ignored completely. please stop writing such misguiding articles.
2013-07-26 00:13:01 671
Hi Sonali, rnNice article, I was looking for info about rayon and bamboo. Now I have a clearer idea about it. Thank you for your article!
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2013-08-01 23:38:07 673
Thanks Danushka!
2014-06-20 12:32:45 803
WHAT? So, using my car I am up to all that? Really?! (you know what is used inside cars, stuffing the seats AND covering the seats ...)
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2014-06-24 22:08:11 806
Raw, I have authored this article to provide the information and knowledge about toxicity of these things to the readers. I am also aware that hundreds of such things have become integral part of our daily life and we can't get rid of them unless inventers find alternative to them. Therefore, to utilize or not utilize the things is very personal and its upto individual decisions and i have certainly not made a compulsion to discard or stop using toxic things. Thanks for reading the article.
2014-06-29 21:53:31 809
Any studies to reference, scientific data, personal research, do you have credentials in the toxicity of materials? Just looking for substantiation or collaboration of any of what was written.
2014-09-08 14:34:53 830
I'm afraid to say that according to my experiences, this is true. I have problems with skin rashes and itchiness. And taking medicine makes it worse. It wasn't until I switched to more natural clothing my skin would feel better.
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2014-09-28 07:42:40 833
Hoko, I would like to suggest you to read following books on ecofashion: Sustainability & fashion- The case of Bethina Elverdam Nielsen and Wear No Evil by Greta Eagan. Thanks.
2015-05-05 07:44:55 931
Thank you very much for your article! For those who are looking for any "hard science" proof - good luck! If it wasn't for the people like the author of this article who speak out of their own experiences and research, you probably still would be living on a flat Earth, held by 3 elephants, a turtle and whatever else your "hard science" was teaching us dummies those days. This "science" will be obsolete in a hundred years or so, if it doesn't destroy our world before that. I don't need any science to know that if the chemical is so strong to transform a strong wood into a soft material, or kill of the bugs that withstand radiation and other extremal conditions, wouldn't be any good for me or my environment. And I appreciate a lot there are still people who really try to make this world a better, healthier place for the rest of us. :)
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2015-05-11 04:39:33 934
I hope you have appreciated the article. Thank you very much.
mirela bordean
2015-07-12 20:13:14 956
I'm really interested in your opinion, it's pretty hard to find safe clothes, even cotton-less than 1% is not treated-so to go organic cotton is pretty hard to find clothes like that..lately it's hard for me to find cotton, e.g all thick tracksuits are made out of cotton/polyester.Really don't know where i can find something decent--i have a question for you: isn't it a method to get rid of the chemicals from rayon( it's natural to start with...), let's say by boiling them?
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2015-07-16 05:17:31 957
Dear Mirela Bordean, Let me consult about this question you have asked with expert/s in textile technology and applications. I hope then we will find appropriate solution. Thanks for reading the article.
2015-08-04 18:00:06 962
Your article was well-written and informative. It seems you have spent considerable time researching this subject-matter and ill effects of chemicals used in the garment industry. Thank you for your willingness to share your knowledge.
2015-08-04 18:08:40 963
In response to "Terry", you apparently missed the most important part about the author of this article, she's a Microbiologist! She is a researcher (with a PhD) and has performed professional studies regarding cause & effect of organic and inorganic materials. I have to question your level of education, which appears to be High School level.
2015-08-18 12:18:24 969
I agree and support Ms. Bhawsar 200%. Thank you for doing this. I have been moving organic forward for a few years now and ready to take it to another level to get more people involved. Please support our mission and become a voice with us. I understand the rules are no links, but we are challenging the hospitals to make a change and need support. Please support the Designer's page and read her story. Gofundmedotcom/cardiacpatientgown
2015-09-17 10:49:49 977
If any of you think the EPA or the FDA are out there for your protection, you live in a world of absolute delusion! It's all about money and power and politics, esp with companies like Monsanto and Big Pharma, but I'm sure the textile industry is right there with them in terms of profit!
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2015-09-29 05:43:51 985
Thank you very much Pat! I am sorry for the delayed reply.
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2015-09-29 05:48:04 986
Its true Kathy but I feel R & D of such industries should take initiative to find suitable alternatives which should be profitable as well as environment friendly. Thanks for reading this article and your comment.
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2015-09-29 05:57:47 987
Thanks Minnie for your appreciation! Visited, read, shared & supported the website you have suggested :)).
2015-10-24 21:20:42 990
Thank you for your time and sharing the knowledge you've been blessed with, it's very noble of you to post such detailed information without wanting to sell a product or for profit. I'll keep you in my duas, and I ask that the CREATOR of all that has ever existed, the CONTROLLER of "all things created" makes your intentions pure, continues to; guide you, blesses you w/ benefial knowledge and that HE grants you the best of success in this life and the next, ameen... (My Huge Thank You!) Btw have you came across any answers about the ability to "wash-off" the ill/toxic effects of these manmade textiles? Or an approximate amount of time it would take for the materials to loose their negative properties???
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2015-11-05 03:24:31 998
Thanks Nasiyha for your appreciation! As you have asked, toxic substances are chemicals and recalcitrant; they take hundreds of years to transform and thus remain persistant in the environment for long long time and hence their ill effects. Thank you once again.
2016-08-15 18:13:17 1102
Im wondering would using nylon cover for portable infrared sauna would emit gas or toxins in the sauna? If so then would it be counterproductive as you will be trading toxins. What are your thoughts on this. Thank you for your kind time.
2016-08-28 13:53:29 1104
While the symptoms of exposure of those various chemicals is, I assume, accurate, I do not believe you are actually exposed to concentrations of the various dyes and treatment chemicals that would result in acute symptoms. The lack of any citations, author affiliations, or follow-up on specific chemicals (e.g. "Since the monomers are toxic, the toxicity of their polymerization product should not be ignored") suggests that you've done enough googling to discuss the hazards, but haven't investigated the relative effects (e.g. You're not thoroughly checking whether these things actually happen) As a rebuttal, I present Polydimethysiloxane - PDMS. The monomers are often cytotoxic and consdered carcinogenic, but "PDMS is optically clear, and, in general, inert, non-toxic, and non-flammable." The polymerization product is only toxic if monomers fail to polymerize, but even then they can be washed out with nonpolar organic solvents. With this in mind, how can you proceed to wildly speculate on the toxicity of sythetic fibers without peer-reviewed studies backing your claim? Do you even know what blood serum concentrations would have to be achieved for any of the symptoms you listed? I believe this article could hold sway with critics if you merely cited one source.
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2016-08-29 06:52:09 1106
Dear Linda, Investigation is required to know effect of IR on nylon fibre.
2016-10-11 11:03:05 1121
This information is incomplete. The carcinogenic effect of polyester and nylon in particular is under-emphasised- it's a significant health and environmental hazard, particularly given the mechanism of dispersal. The second issue is the significant aquatic (ocean) pollution caused by microfibres including rayon. Synthetic and manmade fibres break down into microfibres and this passed straight through into the environment. It cannot be filtered. Fresh water recycled to drinking water and agriculture contains huge quantities of plastic and other such microfibre which is doubly carcinogenic and builds up in the food chain. Rayon is by far the most heavy pollutant of microfibres in the ocean as unlike natural cotton it doesn't biodegrade in aquatic systems. The only way to guarantee sustainability and ethics through clothing is to spin your own organic natural fibre- be it cotton, jute, hessian, flax etc. It's not only premium and the best quality, but it's evironmentally friendly. If you chose to give yourself and others cancer and destroy the world- you are part of the problem and not the solution.
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2016-10-29 02:00:36 1126
Dear John, Thanks for critical information. Regarding spinning your own thread is not impossible though its just the thing of the past. In some villages of rural India, people still do spin and prepare cloth from natural resources like jute, bamboo, cotton and even from aquatic weeds. Spinning was also one of the strongest pillars of Gandhian non-violence strategy against British rule. Thanks.
2016-11-01 16:09:17 1131
Thank you for your article. I own a bird toy store and have been trying for years to get people to understand polyester is not something you can give to your bird. I am thankful to finally find someone else that is writing about the dangers of polyester. Good luck and good article.
2017-06-13 22:35:45 1239
I saw a comment trying to defend polyester... Which I can attest to personal experience of having a dog eat the fabric of that causing to need an operation to remove from stomach... It seems dogs can only break down natural fibers like cotton etc... Not able to digest or break down synthetic fibers like Rayon, Polyester, things of that nature so be very wary. Those sheets you buy that are 50/50 cotton/polyester blend might end up costing a life or lead to a very high vet bill.. I wear many t-shirts, the rayon ones or synthetic fake cotton tend to cause me issues itching or feeling like heating up among breaking out in rashes etc. So while I"ll wear polyester or blended t-shirts to stay cooler in the summer that isn't a material I would advice... Hemp can be expensive especially if that is organic or cotton though... A reason cotton went up in price was the weather in the regions it comes from... So over the last few years or longer they started to substitute rayon, polyester or other cheap even dangerous materials that are not made from natural fibers or sources... Hence they can't be broken down in many cases whether its in the stomach of the dog or bacteria etc... So this will lead to issues with water supply or earth/food animals and crops. I wish I knew all this sooner before finding out the hard way. Be careful if get dogs rope bones they tend to eat the strands so make sure its some sorta natural fiber/source not synthetic like polyester etc...
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2017-06-21 04:01:34 1241
Daoloth, thanks for the important information you shared.
2017-07-12 22:15:46 1251
FAKE SILK: The Lethal History of Viscose Rayon is well worth reading by Paul David Blanc, all referenced. What an expose, the consequences of using carbon disulphide and other chemicals in the process of synthetic material has been devastating for some workers who were guinea pigs.

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