14 Fashion Brands Test Positive for Hormone Disrupting Chemicals

Hormone disrupting chemicals, found by Greenpeace, can affect immune systems and alter sexual development.

Greenpeace recently reported that clothing items bearing the logos of 14 global brands – including Adidas, H&M, Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch – have been found to contain nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), chemicals that can break down to form the hormone-disrupting substance nonylphenol (NP). Just this morning, Reuters released the news that Nearly 300 Cambodian workers fell sick this week at a garment factory producing goods for Swedish fashion brand H&M.

“Workers smelled something bad coming from the shirts,” said 26-year-old Norn Leakhena, a worker at the factory.

Greenpeace also reports in their findings that “Of the 78 articles of clothing bought and manufactured in locations all over the world, two thirds (52) tested positive for these chemicals – demonstrating that the use and release of these substances is a global problem affecting the entire textile industry, and further reinforcing the findings of the first Dirty Laundry Report, published 6 weeks ago.”

We caught up with Tommy Crawford, Communications Manager for Greenpeace International to help us break down what this means for us in terms of personal as well as ecological safety.

Are the hormone disrupting chemicals coming from finishes on the clothes?
Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) are used as surfactants in textile production. They subsequently break down into the toxic nonylphenol (NP) in the manufacturing process in wastewater discharges, as well as when finished clothes are washed by the consumers. This means that the persistent, hormone-disrupting NPs end up predominately in rivers and waterways in the countries of production but also in the countries of sale – including countries where use of the parent compounds (NPEs) is banned.

Would you say these are brands targeted mostly at a younger demographic who could care less about toxic clothing?
Toxic chemicals are a concern for everyone, regardless of their age. Greenpeace is not looking to discourage people from buying these brands, but we are interested in empowering their consumers to challenge these brands to produce their clothes in a way that does not come with a high price for people and the environment. A toxic-free future is possible, and concerned and empowered consumers have already played a massive role in convincing Nike and Puma to commit to the total elimination of all hazardous chemicals from their production by watching and sharing the campaign video and signing the petition. Over 600 supporters and activists even took part in the world’s biggest coordinated striptease to send a clear message to the brands to “Detox” our future.

The Greenpeace report says that chemicals are entering waterways and altering organisms. Why should we care?
We should care as we are talking about very problematic toxic chemicals entering into our water and our environment and having harmful and often unknown impacts. Chemicals that have no safe levels. Chemicals that stay in our environment for a long time (persistent), build up in the food chain (bioaccumulative), and that are hormone disrupting and toxic.

The substances Nonylphenol ethoxolates (NPEs) that we found in the clothes breakdown into the toxic nonylphenol (NP) once released into sewage treatment plants or directly into rivers (such as in manufacturing wastewaters, or during normal washing by consumers). NPs have the ability to mimic natural estrogen hormones. Scientific studies have found that exposure to NP can lead to altered sexual development in some organisms, particularly fish and other aquatic organisms. Lab testing on animal cells has also observed NP impacting immune system cells. Many of these effects can occur at relatively low levels.

With 13 countries involved in the supply chain for all these tested brands, how can they be regulated to ensure change? Is it too big a project?
No it is not. Suppliers in all these 13 countries are supplying big international clothing brands. By campaigning on the clothing brands, urging them to take responsibility for the toxic discharges in the manufacture of their clothes and becoming part of the solution by cleaning up their supply chains we can witness positive results for people and the environment in all production countries. It is not an impossible task, we have already seen both Puma and Nike committing to a toxic-free future by 2020.

Following its commitment last Wednesday Nike immediately took measures to start the elimination of NPEs in their supply chain by informing all of their suppliers around the world that NPEs need to be eliminated. Nike immediately moved NPEs from their list of ‘future restricted substances during manufacture’ to their existing list of ‘restricted substances during manufacture.’ This means that by encouraging the brands to commit to creating a toxic-free world, we can bring about positive and widespread change in all the countries of manufacture – very important for all the millions of people living in the countries of production who are dependent on rivers and other waterways for their drinking water.

Will you be checking back with Puma and Nike regarding their commitment to change?
Yes, both companies have publicly committed to come back with a Plan of Action with a road map detailing how they will get to zero discharges of hazardous chemicals by 2020. Nike, for example, wrote last week in its public commitment: ”Within eight weeks Nike Inc. will announce it’s action plan for the goal of eliminating hazardous chemicals within our supply chain addressing transparency, chemical management, including how we will address the need for industry disclosure in line with the right to know principles and a time-line for the highest priority hazardous chemicals.” Puma has also committed to publishing an action plan detailing how they will deliver their commitment within the next eight weeks.

Greenpeace will be closely watching this process and reviewing the plans of action to ensure they will indeed lead to the brands and their suppliers achieving toxic-free production by 2020.

Images: Greenpeace

Amy DuFault

Amy DuFault is a conscious lifestyle writer, consultant and fashion instigator. She resides in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.