6 Hazardous Chemicals Found in Branded Children's Clothes

Image & report courtesy of Greenpeace

I know what you’re thinking! ‘OMG not another report to instil the fear of God into us?!’ As busy parents we have enough to worry about without having to worry whether our littles ones clothing is full of toxic nasties or not, but recently I come across a report from Greenpeace.

Not only does it make me thankful for the existence of Greenpeace, but it also reminds me what we are REALLY clothing our kids in, and why I chose to use organic cotton and other eco fabrics for SuperNatural organic kids and baby clothing in the first place. Organic cotton and eco-fabrics are more expensive than ordinary fabrics but I believe in slow fashion (http://www.slowfashioned.com/about).  It’s healthier for your kids, and better for the environment to have fewer good quality, longer lasting clothes, and to pay a bit extra to ensure buying a sustainable product rather than clog up the landfills with loads of throwaway pieces clearly made in the cheapest way possible.

I want to give you a few facts a figures which will hopefully help you to consider about what you are buying when you buy kids clothing from the following brands: adidas, American Apparel, Burberry, C&A, Disney, GAP, H&M, Li-Ning, Nike, Primark, Puma and Uniqlo. 

Nightmare for parents

Image courtesy of Greenpeace: The number of samples tested per brand found to contain hazardous chemicals (in red)

There's no “safe” level for hazardous chemicals – that is why the target of zero use is the only credible basis for taking effective action to eliminate these harmful substances.

Tests carried out on 82 items sold by 12 leading clothing brands revealed the presence of hazardous, potentially hormone disrupting chemicals in children’s clothing made and sold by a wide range of brands, from budget to luxury, illustrating a serious problem throughout the industry.

Chih An Lee, Detox Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, said:

“This is a nightmare for parents everywhere looking to buy safe clothes for their children. These chemicals are in everything, from exclusive luxury designs to affordable fashion, and from t-shirts to shoes. What’s worse, they are accumulating in our waterways, especially China’s rivers and oceans, leaving a long lasting environmental mess for our future generations.”

This latest investigation showed little, if any, distinction between the levels of hazardous chemicals in clothing made for children - a particularly vulnerable group - and adults.

The Effects on Children

Image courtesy of Greenpeace


6 Hazardous Chemicals Found in Kids Clothes


Image courtesy of Greenpeace 

1. Phthalates

Phthalates are a group of chemicals most commonly used to soften PVC (the plastic polyvinyl chloride). In the textile industry they are used in artificial leather, rubber and PVC and in some dyes. There are substantial concerns about the toxicity of phthalates such as DEHP, which is reprotoxic in mammals, as it can interfere with development of the testes in early life.

The phthalates DEHP and DBP (Dibutyl phthalate) are classed as ‘toxic to reproduction’ in Europe and their use restricted. Under EU REACH legislation the phthalates DEHP, BBP (Benzyl butyl phthalate) and DBP are due to be banned by 2015.



  • 2. Antimony (PET)

  • So what’s the concern? Antimony is not a nice thing to be eating or drinking, and wearing it probably won’t hurt you, but during the production process it’s released into our environment. 
  • Used in a fabric, it’s most often referred to as “polyester” or “poly”. It is very cheap to produce, which is the primary driver for its use in the textile industry.  Antimony is a carcinogen, and toxic to the heart, lungs, liver and skin. Long term inhalation causes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The industry will say that although antimony is used as a catalyst in the production process, it is “locked” into the finished polymer, and not a concern to human health. And that’s correct: antimony used in the production of PET fibres becomes chemically bound to the PET polymer so although your PET fabric contains antimony, it isn’t available to your living system.
  • Problems occur when the PET (recycled or virgin) is finally incinerated at the landfill – because then the antimony is released as a gas (antimony trioxide). Antimony trioxide has been classified as a carcinogen in the state of California since 1990, by various agencies in the U.S. (such as OSHA, ACGIH and IARC) and in the European Union. The sludge produced during PET production (40 million pounds in the U.S. alone) when incinerated creates 800,000 lbs of fly ash which contains antimony, arsenic and other metals used during production.  So the continued use of polyester exposes our environment (and remember, the “environment” means you and me) to more antimony, which is a heavy metal and not good for us. So if we care about leaving a liveable planet for our children, we should pay attention to the types of fibres we’re supporting.


    3. Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)

    Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) are man made chemicals widely used by industry for their non-stick and water-repellent properties. In the textile industry they are used to make textile and leather products both water and stain-proof.

    Evidence shows that many PFCs persist in the environment and can accumulate in body tissue and biomagnify (increasing in levels) through the food chain. Once in the body some have been shown to affect the liver as well as acting as hormone disruptors, altering levels of growth and reproductive hormones.The best known of the PFCs is perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), a compound highly resistant to degradation; it is expected to persist for very long periods in the environment. PFOS is one of the ‘persistent organic pollutants’ restricted under the Stockholm Convention, a global treaty to protect human health and the environment, and PFOS is also prohibited within Europe and in Canada for certain uses.


    4. Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) 

    Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) are man-made chemicals that are widely used as surfactants by textiles manufacturers. Once released to the environment, NPEs degrade to nonylphenols (NP), which are known to be toxic and act as hormone disrupters. NP is known to accumulate in many living organisms. The presence of NPEs in finished products shows that they have been used during their manufacture, which is likely to result in the release of NPEs and NP in wastewater from manufacturing facilities. In addition, NPE residues in these products will be washed out during laundering and released into the public wastewater systems of the countries where the products are sold.  Studies have demonstrated that NPE continues to be used in both European and non- European countries during textile/garment processing. Residual NPE may remain on the item when it reaches the end consumer, and this has the potential to be released into the environment through washing. Source: The Environment Agency



    Image source: http://ingienous.com/sectors/the-environment/pollution-solutions/steps-we-can-take-to-protect-ourselves-from-chemical-toxicity/

    5. Organotin compounds

    Organotin compounds are used in biocides and as antifungal agents in a range of consumer products. Within the textile industry they have been used in products such as socks, shoes and sport clothes to prevent odour caused by the breakdown of sweat.  One of the best-known organotin compounds is tributyltin (TBT). One of its main uses was in antifouling paints for ships, until evidence emerged that it persists in the environment, builds up in the body and can affect immune and reproductive systems. Its use as an antifouling paint is now largely banned. TBT has also been used in textiles.

    TBT is listed as a ‘priority hazardous substance’ under EU regulations that require measures to be taken to eliminate its pollution of surface waters in Europe. From July 2010 and January 2012 products (including consumer products) containing more than 0.1% of certain types of organotin compounds will be banned across the EU.

    " These compounds pollute the environment and are harmful to aquatic life. Even at very low concentrations, organotins are extremely toxic to marine and freshwater organisms. The primary source of exposure to humans of organotin compounds is from seafood and the most common harm is damage to the immune system. Tributyltin (TBT) and triphenyltin (TPhT) are the most common organotins used in the textile and apparel industries, because DBT is mainly used as a stabilizer in PVC applications and for plastisol prints instead. Organotins are restricted by Japan, South Korea and Taiwan." Source: http://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/43/4243/chemical-safety-in-textile3.asp


    Image courtesy of Greenpeace 

  • 6. Heavy metals: cadmium, lead, mercury and chromium (VI)

  • Heavy metals such as cadmium, lead and mercury, have been used in certain dyes and pigments used for textiles. These metals can accumulate in the body over time and are highly toxic, with irreversible effects including damage to the nervous system (lead and mercury) or the kidneys (cadmium). Cadmium is also known to cause cancer.

    Uses of chromium (VI) include certain textile processes and leather tanning: it is highly toxic even at low concentrations, including to many aquatic organisms.

    Within the EU cadmium, mercury and lead have been classified as ‘priority hazardous substances’ under regulations that require measures to be taken to eliminate their pollution of surface waters in Europe. Uses of cadmium, mercury and lead have been severely restricted in textiles.

    All the hazardous chemicals mentioned above were detected in various products, above the technical limits of detection used in this study. Despite the fact that all the products purchased were for children and infants, there was no significant difference between the range and levels of hazardous chemicals found in this study compared to previous studies analysing those chemicals.


    We are knowingly or unknowingly surrounded and consuming all sorts of horrible stuff.  Sadly, it’s part of what makes a lot of us more comfortable, clothed fashionably, fed watered and looking good!  so it’s unrealistic to ask us to give all these ‘good’ things up.  BUT we CAN try where ever possible to avoid the chemical nasties and to spread the word - because there’s nothing that moves large industry to change their ways more than hurting them in the pocket area!

    Join the movement to clean up fashion and let me know what your experiences have been of buying clothes for your kids? I would LOVE to hear from you. Leave your thoughts and comments below, I read them all.