CHOICE warns consumers to be aware of chemically treated kids’ clothes

In the wake of product recalls by clothing brands Rivers, Pillow Talk and Just Jeans, whose products may contain hazardous AZO-colourants, consumer advocacy group CHOICE is warning parents to be aware of the risks posed by chemically treated children’s clothing.

“It’s concerning that major fashion brands might be using toxic chemicals, many of which are banned in Europe, to treat our kids’ clothes,” says CHOICE journalist Kate Browne.

“This news will come as a real shock to consumers who put a lot of trust in their favourite fashion labels and regulators to ensure the clothes they buy are fit for purpose.”

“The current European Union legislation (called EU REACH) requires all textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) brands and retailers selling into the EU market to monitor more than 300,000 harmful substances in their products. This program also sets maximum limits for TCF products that come into contact with human skin.”

“The Australian equivalent, National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), only lists about 50,000 chemical substances and limits its role to notification and assessment of the use of these chemicals.

“There are no legally prescribed limits on the use of these chemicals in textiles. So while it would be impossible to import some of these chemicals to use in Australia, there would be no problem having the very same chemicals arrive in an order of T-shirts from overseas.”

Dangerous chemicals used to treat clothing:

  • AZO dyes are often used in the colouring process for textiles and leather products. Recently it has been recognised that some AZO colouring agents may form amines (breakdown products) that may have carcinogenic and mutagenic (an agent changing genetic material) properties.”
  • Chlorine phenols (PCP, TeCP, TriCP) used in the processing of textiles. Contact with PCP (particularly in the form of vapour) can irritate the skin, eyes and mouth. Long-term exposure to low levels can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, blood and nervous system. Exposure to PCP is also associated with carcinogenic, renal and neurological effects.
  • Formaldehyde is used to “finish” fabric. Exposure to low levels irritates the eyes, nose, throat and can cause allergies affecting the skin and lungs. Higher exposure can cause throat spasms and build-up of fluid in the lungs, leading to death. Contact can also cause severe eye and skin burns with permanent damage. It is classified as a potential carcinogen.

These are some of the substances of very high concern that have been identified by European Union legislation (EU REACH):

  • Chrome VI used on leather, new wool. Textiles and leather treated with chromate can cause or exacerbate contact dermatitis.
  • DMF used to prevent mould and moisture in leather goods.
  • Phthalates used in PVC for shoes and rainwear are suspected of being carcinogenic and may disturb the hormone system.
  • Alkphenols used for textile and leather production. Strong disruptors of the human endocrine system and environmentally toxic.