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Adidas, Nike, H&M Clothing Emits Hazardous Chemicals when Washed, Greenpeace Says

Clothing from H&M, Adidas, Ralph Lauren and Nike, among others, discharges a significant amount of hazardous chemicals into water systems when washed by customers, according to a Greenpeace report.

Among the samples that Greenpeace tested, those companies’ clothes emitted the highest percentage of nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) on the first wash, according to “Dirty Laundry: Reloaded: How big brands are making consumers unwitting accomplices in the toxic water cycle.

Greenpeace also tested samples from G-Star RAW, Converse, Abercrombie & Fitch, Puma, Calvin Klein, Youngor, Li Ning and Kappa, and found that all discharged NPEs when washed.

The research found that a single wash can remove most NPE residues in textile products, with more than 80 percent eliminated from fabric samples tested. Greenpeace said that the washing of the finished articles can take place anywhere in the world, even where the use of NPEs is restricted.

Once released into the water system, NPEs degrade to nonylphenol (NP). NP is known to be bioaccumulative and toxic, and is able to act as a hormone disruptor, Greenpeace said. There have been restrictions on the use of NPEs in some regions, including in textile manufacturing in most of North America and the EU for almost 20 years.

Greenpeace called on major international clothing brands, consumers and, ultimately, regulators to ban NPEs and its broader chemical family alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) in manufacturing and products, and enforce the ban globally. Greenpeace said that major brands should collaborate on a plan to eliminate the major uses of APEs by the end of 2012, with the complete elimination of all uses of APEs by the end of 2013.

Countries where textile manufacturing takes place should implement rules that emulate the EU’s REACH regulations on the safe use of chemicals, Greenpeace said.

In July 2011, Greenpeace’s first Dirty Laundry report focused on the Youngor Group, China’s biggest integrated textile firm, which the environmental group said was polluting rivers. Greenpeace’s investigations linked the group to a number of major international brands including Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, Calvin Klein, Converse, H&M, Lacoste, Nike, Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation and Puma.

Puma was the first sportswear company to align itself with Greenpeace’s campaign pledging to eliminate all hazardous chemicals across its entire supply chain and the entire life-cycle of its products by 2020. By August, Nike followed suit, and in September Adidas become the third major sports brand to commit zero discharge of hazardous chemicals throughout its supply chain by 2020 in the light of Greenpeace pressure.

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