How do chemicals enter our bodies?

Chemicals used in textiles can enter your body in several ways:

  • Absorption through the skin.
    • Your skin is the biggest organ of your body, and every time you put your body in contact with fabric that contains chemicals of concern, the permeable layer that is your skin absorbs chemicals. Tests found that dioxins leached from clothing onto and through the skin of test subjects during wearing.1
  • Breathing evaporating chemicals.
    • Many of the chemicals used in textile processing evaporate at room temperature and we breathe them in. Some of these chemicals, including formaldehyde, methyl chloride, and many other chlorinated organic compounds, have serious health and ecological impacts. Evaporation doesn't happen – pouf! - instantaneously.  Chemicals evaporate over time, sometimes over long periods of time.  Tests at ground zero (GZ) after the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, found some of the highest readings two months after the attack, continuing "well into 2002".2
    • Sometimes evaporating chemicals morph into something new as they volatilize.  The key word to remember is: reactive chemistry.  The chemicals don't exist in a vacuum – heat, light, oxygen and other chemicals all have an effect on the chemical. The study of Ground Zero found a lot of a very rare chemical (1,3-DPP) which had never previously been detected in ambient air sampling – and scientists don't yet know what combinations of factors produced it.3
  • Abrasion: microscopic fabric particles break off so you either ingest them or breathe them in.
    • There are many chemicals used in production which do not evaporate, such as the heavy metals used in dyestuffs, and many of the polymers, such as one of the more toxic substances created by humankind, PVC (polyvinylchloride – everyday vinyl). Each time you sit on the sofa, walk on a rug, dry yourself with a towel…every time you use these fabrics, microscopic particles are abraded by use, and break off. They fall into the dust in our homes, where they can be breathed in or ingested. Crawling babies and pets are especially susceptible.4

1Horstmann, M and McLachlan, M; "Textiles as a source of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurrans (PCDD/F) in human skin and sewage sludge", Environmental Science and Pollution Research, Vol 1, Number 1, 15-20, DOI: 10.1007/BF02986918  SEE ALSO:  Klasmeier, K, et al; "PCDD/F's in textiles – part II: transfer from clothing to human skin", Ecological Chemistry and Geochemistry, University of Bayreuth,  CHEMOSPHERE, 1.1999 38(1):97-108 See Also:  Hansen,E and Hansen, C; "Substance Flow Analysis for Dioxin 2002", Danish Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Project No.811 2003


3 Ibid.

4Sick of Dust is the first U.S. study to find organotins and perfluorinated compounds in household dust. See the Sick of Dust report at In addition to organotins and perfluorinated compounds, the testing also detected pesticides, phthalates, alkylphenols and flame retardants. All of these are used in textile processing.