‘Eco-friendly’ children’s clothing discovered to contain ‘forever chemicals’

PFAS, a group of thousands of different chemicals, have been linked to health issues like cancer and developmental problems

Ethan Freedman
Climate Reporter, New York
Wednesday 04 May 2022 13:00
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Biden Administration To Set New Regulations for Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’

A new study has found evidence of PFAS, a group of chemicals with a variety of potential health concerns, in many products marketed for children — including those claimed to have green credentials.

Some studies have associated PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, with health problems ranging from reproductive difficulties and developmental issues in children to some cancers, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The chemicals can be found all over the place, from clothing to cookware to some drinking water, according to the EPA — as well as certain products meant specifically for children, according to the new study, published on Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Once they’re out in the world, PFAS break down extremely slowly — leading to them being labelled “forever chemicals”.

“Once these chemicals get out into the environment, we really can’t rein them back in and they’re going to be with us for generations,” Laurel Schaider, an environmental chemist and public health researcher at the Silent Spring Institute, and one of the study authors, told The Independent.

PFAS are prevalent in consumer products in part due to their water- and stain-resistant abilities. For this study, the researchers categorized the products — including clothing, bedding and furniture — in terms of whether the item claimed to be water- or stain-resistant.

They also noted whether a product had some kind of environmental-sounding label — including “non-toxic,” “eco-friendly” and “organic cotton,” as well as some environmental certifications.

The team then tested each product for evidence of PFAS. Out of 93 total products, 54 had levels of fluorine, a potential indicator for PFAS — including 21 out of 34 products with an “environmental” label.

In a subset of products, the team also tested for specific types of PFAS — and found that 18 out of 61 total had detectable levels of one or more specific chemicals. That test didn’t eliminate the “green” products either, as four out of the 23 products with an environmental label tested positive for specific PFAS.

The team find that only products labelled as water- or stain-resistant tested positive for specific PFAS, however.

That finding lead them to believe that the PFAS — with their water- and stain-fighting properties — were there on purpose, says Dr Schaider, though she notes that there is always the possibility that the chemicals showed up in these products unintentionally, such as through using recycled material.

In addition, Dr Schaider is not necessarily surprised that supposedly “green” products had evidence of PFAS. Research into these chemicals is still somewhat new, she says, and some green certifications don’t look for them.

That’s a big point — despite their ubiquity, scientists still don’t know that much about PFAS. But last year, the EPA began a multi-year plan to research and regulate the chemicals.

New studies will try to understand more about the potential toxicity, health effects and ecological issues of the chemicals. In addition, the agency will look at ways of reducing exposure and removing existing PFAS from the environment.

“I don’t think it should be on individual consumers to have to think about toxic chemicals when they go shopping,” says Dr Schaider. But until there are changes in manufacturing or potential regulations, she adds, it is up to consumers to manage their own PFAS exposure.

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