A company that sells fabric on line has a post about why they don’t offer Oeko-Tex certification. Their post is woefully incorrect.
We do not name the company, but call it FabricsellerA. Their post, titled, Why Oeko-Tex certification is NOT Relevant to American Made Fabrics, (the entirety of which you can read below at the end of this post) claims that, in America, for American-made fabrics, Oeko-Tex is irrelevant because the US government, primarily in the form of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ensures that products made in the USA
“ have met the most stringent, comprehensive American health and safety standards.” …”which makes them even more rigorous than the OEKO-TEX test criteria. This is why OEKO-TEX certification is not required in the United States. These strict measures guarantee the highest levels of safety, not only for the consumers who use the fabrics, but also for the health and safety of those who make them, and environmental protection…In addition to (our) ongoing mission and commitment to bringing you safe, high-quality products for your use, our fabrics are, of course, CPSIA Compliant. They meet the highest standards of health and safety in the world.”
FabricsellerA is most thoroughly incorrect.
We find that many people really want to believe that America’s product safety and toxicity standards are the most stringent in the world. This is very, very far from the truth. Our protections from exposure to toxic chemicals is completely inadequate.
First we will give you a visual of just a few of the thousands of chemicals regularly used in textile production with unsavory to scary toxicity profiles, and how the US government and the Oeko-Tex standard compare in protecting us. Then we will recount in detail how the CPSC, OSHA, and the EPA fail to protect us as well as Oeko-Tex does. It is not even close.
First the visual:
Chemical or Chemical Class
|Does Oeko-Tex limit or prohibit?
|Does the US Government limit or prohibit?
|· All flame retardants
|· Carcinogenic and allergy-inducing dyes
|· Chlorinated phenols
|· Chloro-organic benzenes and toluenes
|Heavy metals: Lead
|YES, but limit is 100 times weaker than Oeko-Tex
|Heavy metals: Antimony
|Heavy metals: Cadmium
|Heavy metals: Arsenic
|· Organotin compounds (TBT and DBT)
|Pthalates, like BPA
|Yes, the entire class of many chemicals
|No, not in fabric. It does regulate 5 chemicals in this huge class but not in fabric – only in toys and child care products like teething rings.
There are lots more chemicals limited by Oeko-Tex which are not regulated by the US government. We’ve tried to count, but many of the limits apply to whole classes of chemicals, so we would be under-reporting, but our count ignoring classes (which would greatly increase the number) is 300.
The grand total of chemicals prohibited or limited by the CPSC is two: lead and eight forms of phthalates, which by our count methodology would count as one.
But for a closer examination about why we may want to insist on Oeko-Tex (or, better yet, GOTS, the Global Organic Textile Standard) certification, because of the government failing at this job, let’s start with a look at the CPSC.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)is the agency that regulates the sale and manufacture of consumer products, and ultimately certifies a fabric as compliant and approved for sale in the United States, in accordance with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).
Before 2014, CPSC regulated only one chemical of the extremely long list of unsavory and toxic chemicals used in the process of fabric production which can, and often do, remain in fabric: lead. In 2014 Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement act, which banned three chemicals in the class of phthalates (DEHP, DBP, and BBP) and suggest an expert panel study the banning of two others. In 2017 the panel did ban five others, concluding the ten year effort to ban a small subset of phthalates. (Other very toxic phthalates, including BPA, and the chemical cousins used as substitutes for BPA, are not banned by the feds. Eleven states have bans for baby bottles, and similar products.)
Children’s clothing cannot contain more than 100 parts per million. Oeko Tex restricts lead to 1 part per million; and Oeko-Tex restricts lead from all fabrics, not just in children’s clothing.
The CPSC does regulate eight phthalates in children’s toys and child care items — like teething rings — but not in fabric in children’s clothes. Children’s toys and care items cannot contain concentrations of more than 0.1% of diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP), dinpentyl phthalate (DPENP), dinhexyl phthalate (DHEXP), or dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP). These kinds of chemicals are usually used to soften plastic and make it more pliable. Exposure to these chemicals by children has been linked with health problems like hormone disruption and damage to reproductive development, among other serious issues.
The CPSIA’s permanent prohibition concerning DEHP, DBP, and BBP remains in effect. Thus, effective April 25, 2018, any children’s toy or child care article that contains concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of the following phthalates is prohibited:
- di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP),
- dibutyl phthalate (DBP),
- benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP),
- diisononyl phthalate (DINP),
- diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP),
- di-n-pentyl phthalate (DPENP),
- di-n-hexyl phthalate (DHEXP), and
- dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP).
Greenpeace has done work that points out the very large concentrations of phthalates in many popular Disney children’s clothes. You can read Leigh’s blog on this issue at https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/?s=Toxic+textiles+
The manufacturers may need to limit the few pthalates above, but phthalates are a very large class of chemicals and chemical cousins which are unsavory and can be used interchangeably in their place.
Now on to OSHA. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)is a part of the US Department of Labor. OSHA is concerned with worker safety, not product safety. OSHA actually requires that any polyester or nylon fabric or any natural fiber fabric have a flame retardant treatment so as not to cause a burn on an employee’s skin. To claim that applying a flame retardant finish adheres to the highest safety standards for consumers or workers is woefully incorrect. The FR chemical profiles are so unsavory that you would never choose to bring them into your home.
We have written about FR chemicals at length in our blog, but allow us to remind you briefly: To make an intrinsically flame retardant synthetic fiber fabric, the most common method is to add brominated flame retardants (BFR’s) to the polymer during the melt phase. BFR’s are a huge chemical class. Brominated flame retardants are persistent, accumulate in the food chain, and toxic to both humans and the environment and are suspected of causing neurobehavioral effects, endocrine disruption, cancer and other degenerative diseases.
I’d like to nominate flame retardant chemicals used in our furniture, fabrics and baby products – as well as a host of other products – as being in the running for the new asbestos. These chemicals are called halogenated flame retardants, such as Polybrominated diphenyl ethers – commonly known as PBDE’s. Women in North America have 10 to 40 times the levels of the PBDEs in their breast milk, as do women in Europe or in Asia. And these chemicals pass through the placenta and are found in infants at birth, making a double dose of toxins for young children when they are most vulnerable. When tested in animals, fire retardant chemicals, even at very low doses, can cause endocrine disruption, thyroid disorders, cancer, and developmental, reproductive, and neurological problems such as learning impairment and attention deficit disorder. In humans, these chemicals are associated with reduced IQ in children, reduced fertility; thyroid impacts, undescended testicles in infants (leading to a higher cancer risk), and decreases in sperm quality and function. Ongoing studies are beginning to show a connection between these chemicals and autism in children. Pregnant women have the biggest cause for concern because animal studies show negative impacts on brain development of offspring when mothers are exposed during pregnancy. And bioaccumulating PBDEs can stay in our bodies for more than a decade.
A study published last week in the Environmental Health Perspectives points to California’s unique furniture flammability standard called Technical Bulletin 117, or TB117, as the major reason for high fire retardant levels in California. The California standard, passed in 1975, requires that polyurethane foam in upholstered furniture be able to withstand an open flame for 12 seconds without catching fire. Because there is no other state or federal standard, many manufacturers comply with the California rule, usually by adding flame retardants with the foam.
The startling and disturbing result of the published study in Environmental Health Perspectives is that Latino children born in California have levels of PBDE in their blood seven times higher than do children who were born and raised in Mexico. In general, residents of California have higher rates of PBDE in their blood than do people in other parts of the United States.
A home can contain a pound or more of fire retardants that are similar in structure and action to substances such as PCBs and DDT that are widely banned. They leak out from furniture, settle in dust and are taken in by toddlers when they put their hands into their mouths. A paper published in Environmental Science & Technology also finds high fire retardant levels in pet dogs. Cats, because they lick their fur, have the highest levels of all.(5) PBDE use has increased 40% from 1992 to 2003, and is forecast to grow by at least 3% per year from 2011; they are ubiquitous in consumer products.
One troubling example is chlorinated Tris, a flame retardant that was removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s largely based on research done by Dr. Arlene Blum, a biophysical chemist, after it was found to mutate DNA and identified as a probable human carcinogen. In the journal Environmental Science and Technology, new research published in 2011 shows that chlorinated Tris was found in more than a third of the foam samples tested – products such as nursing pillows, highchairs, car seats and changing pads.
Tris is now being used at high levels in furniture being sold in California to meet the California standard.
The benefits of adding flame retardants have not been proved. Since the 1980s, retardants have been added to California furniture. From 1980 to 2004, fire deaths in states without such a standard declined at a similar rate as they did in California. And when during a fire the retardants burn, they increase the toxicity of the fire, producing dioxins, as well as additional carbon monoxide, soot and smoke, which are the major causes of fire deaths.
So why are we rolling the dice and exposing our children to substances with the potential to cause serious health problems when there is no proven fire safety benefit?
Under current law, it is difficult for the federal Environmental Protection Agency to ban or restrict chemicals – current federal oversight of chemicals is so weak that manufacturers are not required to label products with flame retardants nor are they required to list what chemicals are used. Even now, the agency has yet to ban asbestos!
“We can buy things that are BPA free, or phthalate free or lead free. We don’t have the choice to buy things that are flame-retardant free,” says Dr. Heather Stapleton, an assistant professor of environmental chemistry at Duke University. “The laws protect the chemical industry, not the general public.” What makes them so bad?
- they are persistent: they bioaccumulate, or build up, in fish and cats and Orcas and foxes – and people. Our bodies cannot get rid of these contaminates, so our levels just increase over time. We eat PBDEs when they contaminate our food, particularly meat and dairy products. They latch on to dust and other particles, so we breathe them in, or ingest them when dust settles on food or when children stuff their fingers into their mouths. Scientists look for PBDEs in breast milk because the chemicals stick to fat. In 1999, Swedish researchers reported that PBDE levels in women’s breast milk had increased 60-fold between 1972 and 1997. Similar dramatic increases were documented in California harbor seals, ringed seals from the Arctic, gull eggs from the Great Lakes and human blood from Norway. PBDE pollution has been found essentially everywhere scientists have looked: in the tissues of whales, seals, birds and bird eggs, moose, reindeer, mussels, eels, and fish; in human breast milk, hair, fat and blood; in hot dogs and hamburgers and the cheese we put on them; in twenty different countries and remote areas such as the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Ocean, on top of mountains and under the sea.
- they are fat seeking: this causes them to magnify up the food chain, increasing in concentration at each successively higher level. Once PBDE’s are released into the environment, they invariably find their way into humans, including pregnant women, where they pass to the developing fetus in utero or through the breast milk to the nursing infant. As evidence of fetal exposure, the infant at birth has levels of PBDE’s that are up to 25% of maternal levels. And researchers have found that children’s PBDE levels are about 2.8 times higher than their mothers. Research in animals shows that exposure to brominated fire retardants in-utero or during infancy leads to more significant harm than exposure during adulthood, and much lower levels of PBDEs are needed to cause harm to infants and children than to adults.
- they are endocrine disruptors: Many of the known health effects of PBDEs are thought to stem from their ability to disrupt the body’s thyroid hormone balance, which plays an essential role in brain development. Laboratory animals showed deficits in learning and memory with exposure to PBDE’s. Studies of mice showed that a single exposure to PBDEs caused permanent behavioral aberrations that worsened as the mice got older. One study, for instance, found that women whose levels of T4 measured in the lowest 10 percent of the population during the first trimester of pregnancy were more than 2.5 times as likely to have a child with an IQ of less than 85 (in the lowest 20 percent of the range of IQs) and five times as likely to have a child with an IQ of less than 70, meeting the diagnosis of “mild retardation.”
Personal choices can make a difference. Buying furniture, fabric, cell phones or computers made without PBDEs is definitely a vote for a non-toxic future. But personal choices can only go so far – and the crisis is great. PBDEs, like other contaminant issues, are at least as much a social as a personal issue and challenge. You can help your kids not only with your buying habits, but also by modeling social action for environmental change, and by campaigning for a non-toxic future, the kind of future where mother’s milk will regain its purity.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) controls chemicals partially through use of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which was amended in 2016.
Although the law contains the words “Toxic Substances” the TSCA law does not separate chemicals into categories of toxic and non-toxic. In fact, of the 60,000 chemicals in use in the USA in 1976, the year of the passing of the law, all were grandfathered in as safe to use. These are known as “existing chemicals”.
Of the more than 60,000 existing chemicals in use prior to 1976, most were “grandfathered in”; only 263 had been tested for safety and only 5 were restricted. Today over 80,000 chemicals are routinely used in industry, and the number which have been tested for safety in tests required by the EPA has not materially changed since 1976. So we cannot know the risks of exposing ourselves to certain chemicals. The default position is that no information about a chemical = no action. (Thank goodness for the European Union. The great progress in the past two decades in determining toxicity and safety of many chemicals is due to their action.)
The chemical spill which occurred in West Virginia in 2014 was of “crude MCHM”, or 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, one of the chemicals that was grandfathered into the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. That means that nobody knows for sure what that chemical can do to us.
Carcinogenic effects? No information available.
Mutagenic effects? No information available.
Developmental toxicity? No information available.
Lack of information is the reason the local and federal authorities were so unsure of how to advise the local population about their drinking water supplies. (And by the way, in January, 2014, a federal lawsuit was filed in Charleston, WV, which claims that the manufacturer of MCHM hid “highly toxic and carcinogenic properties” of components of MCHM, hexane and methanol, both of which have been tested and found to cause diseases such as cancer.)
I found claims he EPA has been successful in restricting only nine chemicals of the 60,000 that were grandfathered in as permissible “existing Chemicals” (PCBs, chlorofluorocarbons, dioxin, asbestos, and hexavalent chromium) in its 38-year history, with the ban on asbestos being overturned in 1991.
Until 2016 none of those chemicals were required to be tested for safety. The 2016 revision of the law requires some existing chemicals to be tested for safety, and gives deadlines for the evaluation. The first ten chemicals to be assessed as specifically required by the 2016 revisions are:
- Carbon Tetrachloride
- 1,4 Dioxane
- Cyclic Aliphatic Bromide Cluster (HBCD)
- Methylene Chloride
- Pigment Violet 29
But don’t hold your breath. Take one of the above list: Methylene Chloride. The EPA assessed it beginning in 2014 and proposed a ban – at least from paint removers – in 2017, stating that the chemical posed “unnecessary risks” to people. The European Union had taken this step in 2011. The EPA keeps delaying the ban, and has weakened it by removing one of 2 toxic chemicals in the proposed ban to just one.
Slate has an informative account of the current issue, “A Chemical in Paint Remover is A Known Killer: Why Won’t the EPA Ban It?” in which you can get a taste of the many years the EPA can delay an action or change one, even after announcing and committing to it:
The Environmental Defense Fund has a good blog whose almost every entry is a repudiation of what FabricSellerA claims about American manufacture of products being safe because of the federal government. The EDF has an interesting story about PCB’s, which Congress specifically outlawed in 1979; and how action and inaction by the EPA has allowed variants of PCBs to be still used and sold in the US now, even after the 2016 TSCA revisions:
We assume that the TSCA requires manufacturers to demonstrate that their chemicals are safe before they go into use. It does not:
- The EPA requires a “Premanufacture Notification” of a new chemical, and no data of any kind is required. The EPA receives between 40-50 each week and 8 out of 10 are approved, with or without test data, with no restrictions on their proposed use. As 3M puts it on their PMN forms posted on EPA’s web site, “You are not required to submit the listed test data if you do not have it.”
- The TSCA says the government has to prove actual harm caused by the chemical in question before any controls can be put in place. The catch-22 is that chemical companies don’t have to develop toxicity data or submit it to the EPA for an existing product unless the agency finds out that it will pose a risk to humans or the environment – which is difficult to do if there is no data in the first place. Lack of evidence of harm is taken as evidence of no harm.
- We assume that manufacturers must list all ingredients in a product, so if we have an allergy or reaction to certain chemicals we can check to see if the product is free of those chemicals. It does not.
The TSCA allows chemical manufacturers to keep ingredients in some products secret. Nearly 20% of the 80,000 chemicals in use today are considered “trade secrets”. This makes it impossible for consumers to find out what’s actually in a product. And there is no time limit on the period in which a chemical can be considered a trade secret.
These limitations all help to perpetuate the chemical industry’s failure to innovate toward safer chemical and product design. It’s one of the reasons the USA is one of the few nations in the world in which asbestos is not banned. The EPA has issued regulations to control only 9 chemicals since the enactment of TSCA and the EPA has assessed the risks of only about 2% of the chemicals in use.
On June 22, 2016, President Obama signed the bill that reforms the Toxic Substances Control Act. It was widely agreed that the TSCA is not doing the job of protecting us, and that the United States is in need of profound change in this area. The chemicals market values function, price and performance over safety, which poses a barrier to the scientific and commercial success of green chemistry in the United States and could ultimately hinder the U.S. chemical industry’s competitiveness in the global marketplace as green technologies accelerate under the European Union’s requirements.
we presumably would have an EPA with a mandate to review all chemicals in commerce, the authority to readily get the data it needs, and the resources required to execute the kind of comprehensive prioritization scheme ACC proposes.
So far the improvements in the 2016 revision have not resulted in any safety testing being accomplished, but rather the establishment of a horrendous bureaucracy for evaluation which chemicals need to be evaluated after the first 30 which were mandated.
We cover above the chemicals outlawed in various products by US regulators. There are not many – and most are not regulated in the end usage of fabric at all. Here are the requirements for fabrics – mostly applying to children:
- Section 101(a) of the CPSIA restricts children’s products, including children’s apparel and sleepwear, to a lead content limit of 100 parts per million (ppm). In addition, the use of paint or similar surface coating on children’s apparel and sleepwear must not exceed a lead content limit of 90 ppm. That compares to the Oeko-Tex 100andGOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) requirement that the lead content be 2 ppm.
- Section 108 of CPSIA states that children’s toys and child care articles cannot contain more that 0.1% of six phthalates – DEHP, DBP, BBP limits are applicable to both toys and child care items while DINP, DIDP, and DnOP limits are applicable only to toys that can be placed in the mouth and are intended for children 3 and younger. Although children’s clothing does not need to be certified to this requirement, children’s sleepwear or bibs (child care article) intended for children age 3 years or younger and any children’s textile product that is intended for use in play (toy) must be certified to the phthalates requirements. In comparison to Oeko-Tex 100 and GOTS, all phthalates are prohibited.
- Textiles used in apparel must meet class 1 or 2 flammability requirements. Children’s sleepwear must be flame resistant and self-extinguish when exposed to a small ignition source. The rules cover all children’s sleepwear between size 9 months and size 14. The fabric, seams, trim, and garments must pass certain flammability tests or the garment must be tight-fitting as defined by specified dimensions. ( See our blog post on flame retardants , published in May, 2013) But this rule means that toxic chemicals are often added to children’s sleepwear – not kept out of it.
What does this mean? It means that the United States has basically no protection for consumers in terms of textiles.
So, I have many bones to pick with FabricsellerA, who ignores the weak protections that the federal government provides to protect us from the real safety issues from fabric production and chemicals residual in the fabric that is everywhere around us. The United States has precious few protections for consumers or for workers regarding fabric safety issues while Oeko-Tex does an excellent job of protecting consumers of fabric, though not workers.
The Unabridged Post: from FabricsellerA:
FabricsellerA consumers are savvy consumers. We often receive inquiries from our customers asking if FabricsellerA fabrics are OEKO-TEX certified. They are not OEKO-TEX certified, and here’s why this is a good thing:
OEKO-TEX® is an international association headquartered in Europe, comprised of independent research and test laboratories – focused on the textile industry – which certifies that fabrics meet safety standards for consumer use. OEKO-TEX 100 is the organization’s global testing and certification program that ensures textile products are tested for more than 300 harmful chemicals.
It’s often difficult for resellers of fabrics made in China, India, or other countries, to discern how the fabrics are being made, and what chemicals are being used in their manufacture. That’s why it’s important that the fabrics they sell have an OEKO-TEX certificate or equivalent; this indicates that the fabrics meet strict health and safety standards, and are safe to use. For the benefit of consumers there is an online directory that lists all products, companies, and brands that are OEKO-TEX certified
While OEKO-TEX certification is a stringent process, many of the requirements for this certification are not applicable to our American-made products. That’s why FabricsellerA fabrics are not OEKO-TEX certified—because our fabrics are made right here in the USA . We adhere to the even more demanding American health and safety standards, and ensure that no harmful chemicals are used in the production of our fabrics.
In the United States, all the fabric manufacturers, including FabricsellerA, produce their fabrics under the safety guidelines and regulations set forth by several government agencies. These agencies include the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The CPSC is the agency that regulates the sale and manufacture of consumer products, and ultimately certifies a fabric as compliant and approved for sale in the United States, in accordance with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). The CPSIA compliance certification ensures that the products you use every day have met the most stringent, comprehensive American health and safety standards.
Fabrics made or sold in America must not only meet CPSIA requirements, but manufacturing must comply with EPA, OSHA, and other regulations, which makes themeven more rigorous than the OEKO-TEX test criteria. This is why OEKO-TEX certification is not required in the United States. These strict measures guarantee the highest levels of safety, not only for the consumers who use the fabrics, but also for the health and safety of those who make them, and environmental protection.
In addition to FabricsellerA’s ongoing mission and commitment to bringing you safe, high-quality products for your use, our fabrics are, of course, CPSIA Compliant. They meet the highest standards of health and safety in the world.
On average, 78% of the weight of a fabric is the fiber it purports to be, and 22% is residual chemicals. W. Baumann, K. Lacasse, Textile Chemicals: Environmental Data and Facts, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2004
If you don’t know what flame retardants can do to you, please see our blog https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/?s=pbde
(3) Some of the more common BFR’s are: Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE’s): besides PBDE, the group includes DecaBDE, OctaBDE and PentaBDE (neither Octa nor Penta is manufactured anymore); Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) – also not manufactured anymore; Brominated cyclohydrocarbons
Martin, Andrew, “Chemical Suspected in Cancer is in Baby products”, The New York Times, May 17, 2011.
Vernier, Marta and Hites, Ronald; “Flame Retardants in the Serum of Pet Dogs and in their Food”, Environmental Science and Technology, 2011, 45 (10), pp4602-4608. http://pubs.acs.org/action/doSearchaction=search&searchText=PBDE+levels+in+pets&qsSearchArea=searchText&type=within