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“Toxic Clothing” and CA Prop 65: Not Just Some New-Age Concept, but a Politically Recognized Fact

Unless you’ve lived in California in last 15 years, you’ve probably not heard of CA Proposition 65. I was working retail in California between 2009-2013, when it became state law that stores must post Prop 65 warnings advising the public if products sold were known to contain toxic chemicals. These signs went up in the store I was working at - a very well-known and popular retail store that is present in probably every mall you can think of.

California Proposition 65, also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, is a California law that addresses concerns about exposure to chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. The law requires businesses to provide clear and reasonable warnings to consumers about significant exposures to listed chemicals in products they purchase, use, or are exposed to.

Key points about California Proposition 65 include:

  • List of Chemicals: Proposition 65 maintains a list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. The list is regularly updated by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). As of my last knowledge update in January 2022, the list included over 900 chemicals.

  • Warning Requirements: Businesses operating in California must provide warnings if their products expose consumers to any of the listed chemicals above specified levels. This warning can be given through labels on products, signs at the point of sale, or other appropriate methods.

  • Wide Range of Products: Proposition 65 applies to a broad array of products, including foods, alcoholic beverages, dietary supplements, and a variety of consumer goods. It is not limited to clothing but extends to many consumer products.

Although Prop 65’s mandate to post warning signs about product toxicity only applies to California, the toxic products are everywhere. In clothing, toxic chemicals are mostly found in dyes and the fabric production process.

The term "clothing toxicity" can refer to different aspects related to the potential health and environmental impacts of clothing. Here are a few aspects to consider:

  • Chemical Exposure:

  • Dyes and Chemicals: The dyeing and finishing processes of textiles often involve various chemicals. Some of these chemicals, such as azo dyes, formaldehyde, and heavy metals, can be harmful to human health and the environment. Choosing clothing made with eco-friendly dyes and processes can reduce this risk.

  • Fabric Treatments: Some clothing items are treated with chemicals for wrinkle resistance, stain resistance, or flame retardancy. These treatments may involve substances that could be harmful. It's advisable to opt for clothing with minimal chemical treatments or seek out alternatives.

  • Fabric Materials:

  • Synthetic Fabrics: Some synthetic fabrics, such as polyester and nylon, are derived from petroleum and can release microplastics into the environment during washing. Microplastics can be harmful to marine life and ecosystems. Choosing natural and organic fabrics or recycled materials can be more environmentally friendly. See our article for a more detailed discussion about polyester.

  • Organic Cotton: Conventional cotton cultivation often involves the use of pesticides. Organic cotton, on the other hand, is grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, reducing potential exposure to harmful chemicals.

To make informed choices, consumers can look for certifications such as Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) for organic textiles, Oeko-Tex Standard 100 for textiles tested for harmful substances, and other sustainability certifications.

Additionally, being aware of a brand's commitment to sustainable and ethical practices can guide choices toward more environmentally and socially responsible clothing options.

Read about how RECLAIMthreads & Earthshine Apparel exemplify the two models of sustainable fashion.

Read more about how this toxic chemicals & the fast fashion industry are harmful for the environment.

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