Why Material Matters

What we mean by “toxic” chemicals... [1,2]

  • Major chemical pollutants are dyes and finishes
  • Synthetic dyes contain: carcinogenic amines, metals, pentachlorophenol, chlorine bleaching, halogen carriers, formaldehyde, biocides, fire retardants, and softeners
  • One example is Azo dyes, which are used in clothing production - these contain various aromatic amines (AAs), it is well known that AAs have carcinogenic and genotoxic properties, as well as allergenic potential.

Why toxic chemical free? [2,3]

  • Studies have shown that garments tested from international clothing chains contained thousands of chemicals, some of which were not listed on the producer’s list of included chemicals. 
  • Some chemicals washed out - which means they can contaminate our water supply
  • Most chemicals did not wash out - leading to chronic exposure to the people who wear them. 
  • Studies have reproduced the findings that some toxins are capable of penetrating human skin and accumulating - suggesting long term health consequences to the people who wear these clothes.
  • Chemicals measured included formaldehyde, nanoparticles, phthalates, aromatic amines, quinoline, bisphenols, benzothiazoles and benzotriazoles. The levels were considered high in many of these clothes and were over the limit set by the EU considered as “safe”. Many of these are known mutagens and carcinogens.

Why do we care about the material - i.e. why do we avoid microplastics? [4,5]

  • Synthetic clothing is thought to be the main source of airborne microplastics
  • Microplastics have even been found in food destined for human consumption and in air samples.
  • The lungs and GI tract are sensitive to stress and inflammation from the inhalation/ingestion of microplastics.
  • Microplastics are biopersistant - exhibiting little deterioration even after they accumulate and trigger an immune-mediated response to the foreign material
  • Histopathological analysis of lung biopsies from workers in the textile (acrylic, nylon, and polyester) industry showed interstitial fibrosis and foreign-body-containing granulomatous lesions.
  • Exposure produces a range of outcomes, including tissue damage, fibrosis, and carcinogenesis.
  • Chronic irritation and inflammation may promote cancer as a result of DNA damage (adducts and mutations) caused by oxidative stress and particle's direct action, evasion of detection by the immune system and pro-inflammatory mediators promoting angiogenesis and mitogenesis, favoring the formation and progression of malignant cells 


  1. Rovira, J., & Domingo, J. L. (2018). Human health risks due to exposure to inorganic and organic chemicals from textiles: A review. Environmental Research. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2018.09.027
  2.  Freeman,S. Frontiers in Bioscience, Landmark, 18, 145-164, January 1, 2013
  3. Toxins remain in your clothes. October 23, 2015. Stockholm University
  4. Wright, S. L., & Kelly, F. J. (2017). Plastic and Human Health: A Micro Issue? Environmental Science & Technology, 51(12), 6634–6647. doi:10.1021/acs.est.7b00423 
  5. Prata, J. C. (2018). Airborne microplastics: Consequences to human health? Environmental Pollution, 234, 115–126. doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2017.11.043