The study “Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch Up” found high levels of toxic phthalates in four of the products, cancer-causing amines from the use of azo dyes in two products and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE) in 89 articles of clothing, or 63 percent of all items tested, showing little difference from the results of a 2011 investigation into the presence of these substances in sports clothing.
While all of the brands, which included Victoria Secret, H&M, Levi’s and Tommy Hilfiger, had several items containing NPEs, Zara was the only retailer with items that had both NPEs and toxic amines.
The study, which tested 141 clothing products, aims to pressure global brands to eliminate the use of hazardous substances throughout their product line.
The industrial use of NPEs, which can break down into hormone-disrupting chemicals when released into waterways, has been restricted by some regions for nearly two decades, Greenpeace said. However, NPEs are still used by textile manufacturers to process clothing.
These chemicals not only end up on the clothing consumers buy, but in public waterways near textile factories as well, Greenpeace said. Once consumers wash their new clothes, NPE residues and other hazardous chemicals can be released into their domestic waste water.
Greenpeace also discovered the presence of other different types of potentially hazardous industrial chemicals across a number of the products tested.
Unlike other recent Greenpeace investigations into chemical residues within textile products, this study looked into a number of different hazardous chemicals within a broad range of fashion clothes, as either components of materials incorporated within the product, or as residues remaining from the manufacturing process.
Adidas, H&M, Ralph Lauren and Nike were criticized earlier this year in a Greenpeace report on chemicals found in clothing. Greenpeace found clothing from the companies discharged a significant amount of hazardous chemicals into water systems when washed by customers.
The report followed a 2011 campaign that named and pressured a number of clothing brands associated with importing materials from a Chinese conglomerate that the activist group says is polluting rivers. Following the campaign, Adidas committed to having zero discharge of hazardous chemicals throughout its supply chain by 2020. Nike and Puma also have agreed to eradicate hazardous chemicals from their supply chains.