Are Your Clothes Killing You? Toxins Hiding In Plain Sight

Everyone loves shopping, right? The high of the buy is part of the thrill. But once you take a closer look at your purchase, it may leave your skin crawling.


California Proposition 65 Cancer Warning On the Clothes I bought

For example, while shopping at a local Marshalls store in my area, I couldn’t figure out why I was developing hives from simply trying on clothes. Was it a dye from a dress I had tried on? A perfume I had inadvertently inhaled? In all fairness, I have always been very sensitive to chemicals, so at first I wasn’t alarmed. I made my purchase and went home. It wasn’t until a week later that I discovered the real cause.

Checking a shirt I bought, I took a quick look at one of the tags. I was horrified to discover that it contained a small print warning: “This product contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm.”

Cancer? Birth defects? Reproductive Harm? From a shirt?!

Even more unnervingly, I learned from a quick Googling of the California Law that products that are sold outside of California are not required to have the warning label even if they contain the same substances that might cause cancer. Some companies that sell products all over the US only label those sent to California, even though all their products contain the same compounds.

From this law, I also learned that The Prop 65 labels only tell you that a product has something in it that might cause cancer or affect reproduction. They don’t say what the substance is, where it is in the product, how you might be exposed to it, what the level of risk is, or how to reduce your exposure.

So essentially I might have bought the exact same shirt somewhere else and it wouldn’t have had the warning on it. The only reason it had one was probably because Marshalls had bought the item from California and decided to sell it here where I live in Connecticut.

Add to that, I would probably never find out what the toxic compound it contained actually was. It could be any of the 800 chemicals that California requires a warning label on. The manufacturer has no obligation to disclose what it might be to me.

Gulp. All that from a little spaghetti strap blouse? I had previously known that almost all clothing these days is sprayed with formaldehyde and other toxic substances such as flame retardants, but this topped the cake. The warning on the item was merely coincidental. Had I gotten the shirt elsewhere, it may not have had the warning at all. And even then, only 800 chemicals require labeling in that state. What about the thousands of others proved harmful?

So what does this tell us consumers? That not even the most innocuous of items are safe anymore. They need to be eyed with scrutiny to the highest extent.


Toxic Shopping: Hidden Toxins In Your Clothes

Even after looking through the rest of my bargains (and much to my dismay discovering none of them were actually made in the USA, not that American products are any the less toxic), I had to realize that they may have potentially been contaminated with the same chemical, but did not carry the same warning tag. There is no way of telling what is in, been sprayed on, or dyed into a product. Even repeated washing can’t get rid of most of these toxins.

Gee, and here I thought I was so safe because I ate only organic. Maybe the people who buy organic pesticide-free clothing aren’t so paranoid after all.

So this articles begs the question: is what lurks in your closet safe? Could your kids be wearing a shirt laced with lead, cadmium, or deadly flame retardants? Is your normal consumer shopping hiding a hidden risk your doctors will never tell you about? Or do the doctors themselves not yet know?

Caveat emptor… Buyer beware… If one can be completely aware in this day in age. Proceed with caution.

  • Maggie Lynn Heron-Heidel

Facts from the American Cancer Society. You can read more on the subject here: