Three major clothing lines based in Sweden and Norway are selling products that contain toxic chemicals, reported NewsinEnglish.no. KappAhl and H&M, both Sweden-based clothing chains, and Cubus, a Norway-based company, were caught selling articles of clothing in which one out of three contained DBP or DEHP.
Dibutyl phthalate, or DBP, is a commonly used plasticizer that was banned by the European Union (EU) in 1999 for use in products like nail polish, cosmetics and children's toys. The United States followed suit, banning the chemical in 2006.
Due to its low cost, Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, is also used to manufacture plastics. It's one of six compounds that the EU claimed to remove from the market in early 2011; however, the testing conducted by the Norwegian Consumer Council found this to be untrue.
Researchers also identified the chemical nonylfenoletoxilat (NPEO) in some items, "which breaks down to the endocrine disruptor nonylfenol" and can act as a hormone disruptor.
NPEOs aren't banned but restricted to limited use in the EU.
The study was completed ahead of a seminar on protecting consumers against toxic substances, held by Norwegian and Danish councils earlier this month.
Researchers believe both chemicals to be endocrine disruptors, responsible for increasing cancer, fertility complications, damage to fetuses, type 2 diabetes, obesity and ADHD in humans.
"It is disturbing that every third children's garment we tested contained substances with properties that could be harmful," said council director Randi Flesland. "These are substances that should not be found in children's clothing."
Scandinavia's toxic clothing industry
Cubus services customers throughout Sweden and Norway, while H&M has stores in the U.S. KappAhl's international website ships clothing to Finland, Norway, Poland and Sweden.
KappAhl was the first fashion chain store to be certified according to the environmental management standard, with 18 percent of their products labeled "eco," meaning that they met certain criteria mandated by the state. The label was intended to help customers make healthier, safer choices for both humans and the environment.
The chain stores responded to the testing, arguing that the chemical levels are below "what's deemed acceptable." However, the council countered that even a small amount of exposure to these chemicals could be very harmful, particularly for children.
"Scientists warned the chemicals may have no safe lower limit, and exposure to even very small amounts during vulnerable stages such as during fetal development could result in damage manifesting later in life," reported NewsinEnglish.no. "The substances are banned in games and products for young children."
The council director added:
Children and youths are extra vulnerable to harmful chemicals and are not well enough protected by the current legislation.
Dangerous substances in everyday products are an increasing problem. It is completely unacceptable that consumers should bear this risk on behalf of the industry. When prominent scientists shout warnings about what endocrine-disrupting substances can do to our health, politicians must wake up.
The Detox Campaign, which focuses on pressuring major clothing brands to commit to using zero dangerous chemicals in their products by 2020, found the following brands to contain similar harmful substances: Adidas, American Apparel, Burberry, C&A, Disney, GAP, Li-Ning, Nike, Primark, Puma and Uniqlo.
Each brand tested contained hazardous chemicals, said Greenpeace. One Adidas swimsuit tested for high levels of perfluorooctanoic acids (PFOAs), higher than the company's own set standards. According to the EPA, PFOAs do not occur naturally but are very persistent in the environment and remain in people for a very long time.
Developmental and other adverse health effects are known to occur in laboratory animals exposed to PFOAs.
"Norwegian authorities must put significantly more pressure on the EU to ban the substances, while the industry must be encouraged to start phasing them out immediately," argued Flesland.
Large, powerful chemical companies often pressure governments into leniency regarding repercussions for violating human health standards. Flesland said a "non-toxic action plan" must be put in motion with government enforcement.
Cubus' communications manager, Julie Bragli Eckhardt, assured that the chain would examine the test results and act accordingly.
"H&M's chemical restrictions have since 1999 voluntarily contained strict restrictions against NPEO," said press officer Kristin Fjeld.
Since the test results fell below set standards, "It tells us that NPEO has not been used on purpose, but rather has rubbed off on clothing through contamination," said Fjeld, adding that contamination can occur during transport.
KappAhl responded similarly to Cubus, stating that the levels found were far below the proposed maximum limit.
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