In Denmark, the environmental and health problems associated with the use of chemical substances and pesticides are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Its latest report, 'Chemicals in Textiles', analysed a range of apparel items and found an alarming number of substances that could be hazardous to the health of wearers and shop workers. Penny Leese reports.

"Chemicals found in clothes and household textiles can cause skin irritations, allergic reactions, asthma, and bronchitis." So says toxicologist Helle Buchardt Boyd from the Danish Toxicology Centre, one of the researchers involved in the Danish Environmental Protection Agency's recent report, "Chemicals in Textiles".

The researchers found 27 substances that they considered to be an environmental risk, a health risk to shop staff, or a health risk to consumers. These included chemicals, dyes, metal residues and the like in imported clothing and household linens.

The report, which is over 200 pages long, has attracted a great deal of press and media attention, but also some criticism from the clothing industry.

It says that textiles sold on the Danish market contain varying amounts of chemicals. These may be dyes, which provide colour, or residues/impurities from the production process (such as aromatic amines and heavy metals), which do not have any function.

The study also indicates that some of these chemicals may pose a health risk to consumers and shop staff, and an environmental risk in connection with the sewage discharge from domestic laundering. When clothes are washed, chemicals in the form of surplus dyes are released and end up in the sewage system. If these chemicals are not degraded in wastewater treatment plants, they may reach the aquatic environment when discharged into a watercourse, or farmland when sludge is applied. Which means that hazardous chemicals may thus be spread in the environment.

What was screened
Twenty-two clothing and household textile items were bought in Danish shops and screened. The researchers selected products that are washed frequently and constructed from commonly used fibre types such as cotton, wool, silk, polyester, poly-acrylic, elastane, viscose and acetate. Carpets and technical textiles were not included.

What was found
The chemical analyses found naphthalene, o-chlorophenol, nicotine, various phthalates, quaternary ammonium compounds, nonylphenol ethoxylates, chlorinated benzenes, alkyl benzenes, 14 aryl amines, substituted toluenes, benzene sulphonamides, polycyclic compounds, substituted benzenes and the following heavy metals: lead, cadmium, copper, cobalt, chromium, nickel, zinc, barium, tin, arsenic and mercury. These were then given a risk assessment/screening, with the overall results shown below:

Chemicals/agent Health risk to consumer Health risk to shop staff Risk to water environment
Nicotine
+
-
+
Naphthalene
(-)
+
-
DEHP
(+)
-
+
O-chlorophenol
(+)
+
-
C3-Alkyl benzenes
+
-
-
C4-alkyl benzenes
+
-
-
Tetrachlorethylene
+
-
-
p-Chloraniline
+
-
(-)
P-nitroaniline Toluene
+
-
-
Diisocyanate
+
+
-
Acridine
(+)
(+)
+
Nitrobenzene
+
-
-
Barium (easily soluble)
(+)
(+)
-
Cadmium
(+)
(+)
+
Cobalt
(+)
-
(-)
Chrome
(+)
-
+
Lead
(+)
(+)
+
Arsenic
(+)
(+)
-
Mercury
(+)
(+)
-
Tin
(+)
(+)
(-)
Nickel
(+)
-
-
Zinc
-
-
+
Nonylphenol ethoxylates NPEO
(-)
-
+
2,6-dichlor-4-nitroanilin
-
-
+
2-chlor-4-nitroanilin
(-)
-
+
6-methyl-3-nitroanilin
(-)
-
+
Diphenylamine
(-)
-
+
Copper
-
-
(-)
4-methyl-3-nitroanilin
*
*
(-)
N-butyl sulphonamide
*
*
(-)
+ = Risk
(+) = Small risk
(-) = Borderline
- = No risk
* = Not evaluated due to lack of data
Conclusion
Twelve sued due to lack of data bstances were found to present a risk to the aquatic environment; six substances were doubtful; and seven substances could not be assessed due to lack of data. Screening based on the maximum concentrations found in the textiles shows that ten substances present a health risk, while eleven other substances present a minor risk to consumers and/or shop staff. Due to lack of data, nineteen other substances could not be assessed.

Washing out
All of the textile products were washed in a simulated domestic laundry, and the slops were analysed. The risk assessment was based solely on data from the textiles' first laundering, and less than half of the substances present were washed out in most cases. This means that a considerable amount of the washing out is likely to occur in subsequent laundering.

Discharge risk
The chemicals surveyed were assessed in two ways. Wastewater discharge was evaluated using the ABC system; while health risks were evaluated using the UPH system.

An environmental risk assessment of all the substances found in the slops and of dyes/pigments, including some aryl amines, was carried out. Substances likely to present a risk to the aquatic environment and/or on the terrestrial environment include: nicotine, diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEO), 2,6-dichloro-4-nitroaniline, 2-chloro-4-nitroaniline, 6-methyl-3-nitroaniline, diphenylamine, acridine, cadmium, chromium, lead and zinc.

Other substances are less likely to present an environmental threat, but cannot be excluded on the present basis. They comprise: 4-Methyl-3- nitroaniline, p-Chloroaniline, N-butylbenzene sulphonamide, cobalt, tin and copper.

Health risk screening
A health risk screening showed that the concentrations of the following substances present a risk to users of the textiles and/or shop staff (see table above): nicotine, naphthalene, o-chlorophenol, C3-alkylbenzenes, C4-alkylbenzenes, tetrachloroethylene, p-Chloroaniline, p-nitroaniline, toluene diisocyanate and nitrobenzene.

The following substances are considered to present a small risk: DEHP, acridine, readily soluble barium compounds, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, lead, arsenic, mercury, nickel and tin.

Some textiles contain a lot of different substances that, in combination, may pose a health risk. For example, because the effect of aryl amines is additive, situations are likely to occur in which the total amount of aryl amines presents a risk although the individual aryl amines do not. The report demonstrates that the presence of aryl amines (and azo dyes) in textiles is widespread.

Substances to avoid
The report concludes that the following agents should be eliminated (or at least reduced) in textiles as they are considered to be a health and/or environmental risk: nicotine, naphthalene, o-chlorophenol, Diethylhexyl phthalate DEHP, Nonylphenol ethoxylates NPEO, C3 alkyl benzenes, C4 alkyl benzenes, tetrachloroethylene, p-Chloroaniline, p-Nitroaniline, 2.6-dichloro-4-nitroaniline, 2-chloro-4-nitroaniline, 666-methyl-3-nitroaniline, diphenylamine, toluene di-isocyanite, acridine, nitrobenzene, highly soluble barium compounds, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, lead, arsenic, mercury, tin, zinc, nickel.

What to substitute
The twenty-seven substances to avoid are dominated by impurities in dyes (anilines, acridine, nitrobenzene, diphenylamine and heavy metals) and partly by carriers (C3- and C4- alkyl benzenes, Tetrachloroethylene and naphthalene). The report recommends that heavy metal-based dyes/pigments should not be used, and the content of heavy metal impurities in dyes/pigments be minimised. A reduction in aryl amine and other impurities in the form of acridine, nitrobenzene and diphenylamine is also suggested.

In addition, the presence of cadmium and DEHP in PVC prints should be eliminated or, alternatively, PVC prints avoided altogether. High-temperature dyeing - except when dyeing mixed textiles containing wool - removes the need for carriers altogether. Diethyl phthalate is assessed as having relatively little impact on health and the environment. Alcohol ethoxylates are a possible substitute for nonylphenol ethoxylates.

Tin and toluene diisocyanate should be avoided in polyurethane products says the report. The presence of toluene diisocyanate may be limited by optimum polymerisation (hardening) of the polyurethane.

Textile consumption
Each Dane buys an estimated 22 kg of textiles per annum, of which 13 kg are clothes. This compares, for example, with Germany where consumers buy around 18kg of clothes per year. Around half of the textiles bought in Denmark are thought to be re-used as 'second hand clothes' or for cleaning. Each person throws away 10-20 kg of textiles per year, which are usually incinerated. These residues are not considered a problem.

Criticism of the report
In response to the publication of the report, DTB, the Danish Textile and Clothing Association, denied that health problems could be caused by apparel.

The association quoted Professor Thorkild Menné, a leading dermatologist, who pointed out that he had never yet seen children with allergies caused by clothing, and that it is also rare in adults. "Very few people are allergic to their clothing, and very few need to worry about it when buying new clothes," he told the Asthma and Allergy Association's magazine.

The DTB's Jens Bloch also told just-style.com that if the results of this research are to be regarded as a problem, then it is a global problem - not just restricted to the Danish market. He said: "The products tested were collected at random in Danish shops. However, three-quarters of the turnover in Danish textile and clothing retailing comes from imported goods."

Support for environmental clothing
The Danish Environmental Protection Agency has put 5.8 million Danish Kroner towards a marketing campaign for environmental brands. The campaign will start in spring 2001. A considerable part of this grant will go towards a campaign for textiles and clothing labelled with the EU's environmental label, the flower (Blomsten). None of the imported textiles assessed in this report could meet the criteria demanded by the two eco-labelling schemes - the Nordic Svanen (Swan) and the EU's Blomsten (Flower) - or by Öko-tex.

Swedish report
The Danish study used as its foundation a 1997 Swedish report, also entitled "Chemicals in Textiles". This also looked at the environmental and health risks posed by chemicals in imported textiles, and concluded that hazards are found within the following functional groups: biocides, flame-retardants, dyes (azo and dispersion dyes), carriers and softeners and formaldehyde. These are substances that serve a purpose in the final product (for example, flame retardants and dyes) as well as residues of auxiliary chemicals from the production process (carriers and nonylphenol ethoxylates).

The study only dealt with possible health hazards to consumers, and the environmental hazard as the result of domestic laundry. Waste disposal is hardly mentioned in the Swedish report. (Kemikalier I textilier - redovisning av et regeringsuppdrag, KEMI 2/97. Kemikalie-inspektionen, Solna, Sweden.)

The Danish Environmental Protection Agency's 228-page report on 'Chemicals in Textiles' is in Danish, with an English summary. It can be ordered from the website at:www.mst.dk

For more information on 'Chemicals in apparel: current EU legal initiatives' see: www.just-style.com/features_detail.asp?art=250

Dangerous rainwear
A separate survey carried out by Green Information and the Danish Consumer Association has revealed a "horrifying" number of toxic rainwear articles on sale in the shops.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is considered by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency to be dangerous because its production generates high levels of pollution, and it is difficult to dispose of. Its main ingredients are unrefined oil and chlorine. Vinyl chloride, a by-product of its manufacture, is a probable cause of cancer in humans; and the softeners used in the product are thought to affect fertility. Since 1st April, in Denmark, these softeners have been forbidden in toys for children under the age of 3 years. They are also banned from other small articles that children might put in their mouths - such as PVC mittens. However, PVC, with softeners, is permitted in rainwear and wellingtons for children.

In July this year the Danish Environmental Protection Agency decided that PVC could no longer be disposed of by incinerating it together with normal refuse, but had to be treated separately, as a hazardous material (like batteries, used computers, etc). Incineration gives off a poisonous smoke that contains hydrochloric acid. Local councils have until April 1st 2001 to establish facilities in their local refuse centres.

Manufacturers, on the other hand, insist that PVC is the strongest and cheapest material to use for rainwear. Helly Hansen, the Norwegian sailing clothes company, makes rainwear in both PVC and PU (polyurethane). But the company claims that consumers want the best prices - and that means PVC - according to Tænk og Test, the latest issue of the Danish consumer magazine.

PVC is a naturally hard material, and has to be softened with phthalates. In the long-term these can damage the aquatic environment, says the Danish Environmental Protection Agency. They are suspected of being oestrogen-like, and affecting people's fertility. Phthalates are released when PVC garments come into contact with water - for example, when they are washed and in the rain. Some are easily released, others build up in streams and lakes.

A small country like Denmark, with only 5 million inhabitants, uses 250 tons of phthalates every year. This is despite the fact that there are other more environmentally friendly alternatives for rainwear - PU (polyurethane) and nylon (polyamide). The consumer association encourages consumers to buy non-PVC rainwear. Swedish based international young fashion chain Hennes and Mauritz, for example, has PVC rainwear now, but is phasing it out from the end of December 2001.

For further information contact: www.greeninfo.dk