Hazardous Chemicals in Fashion Product Life Cycle - Corethics

Hazardous Chemicals in Fashion Product Life Cycle


Key takeaways:

Risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals at all stages of product life cycle

Oeko-Tex provides the best ethical standard (hazardous chemicals)

APEOs and APs impair human and fish fertility

Integrate global goal UNSDG 6.3 into business strategy

Greenpeace Detox Campaign provides valuable information to get started

There are thousands of hazardous chemicals that are used within the clothing product lifecycle. The risk they pose to human, non-human, and environmental health is dependent on the amount present (in the sample) and the properties of the chemical compounds (how they interact with other compounds).

Chemicals play a significant role in the manufacturing process from assisting in the fast turnaround of crop production to creating beautiful vibrant and water-resistant fabrics. However, if we are to reach the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #6 Clean Water and Sanitation then we must make the next decade, the decade of action.


United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6.3 states:

“By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimising release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally”.


If we are to meet this goal then we must equip ourselves with the knowledge to take action on protecting our People + Planet. This goal can apply to all stages of the product life cycle from the farm to factory to customer care (washing) and end of life. Fashion labels serious about ethics in their supply chain need to incorporate this target into their business strategy.



Pesticides and synthetic fertilisers used in non-organic cotton farming can have trace elements as the product moves along the life cycle.


To add, denitrification, the chemical process of nitrogen fertiliser where oxygen is removed, consequently turns into nitrous oxide. As this is released into the air it becomes a potent greenhouse gas attributed to global warming. The runoff of fertilisers and pesticides into groundwater supplies and waterways causes environmental destruction. Unsustainable practices are short-sighted. Sure, they can increase crop production, but crop yields will fall as land becomes desolate year on year.


Corethics is a strong advocate for the use of circular wastewater treatment plants due to their ability to remove hazardous chemicals from reaching the environment (among various other benefits!). The combination of chemicals used in the yarn processing, dying, and fixing process, if not adequately treated, can have lasting impacts on the local environment and human health.


In 2011, Greenpeace launched their Detox Fashion campaign asking fashion labels to stop hazardous chemicals from polluting waterways. Greenpeace identified 11 priority chemical groups:

  1. Alkylphenols (APs) & Alkylphenolethoxylates APEOs)
  2. Phthalates
  3. Brominated and chlorinated flame retardants
  4. Azo dyes release carcinogenic amines through reductive cleavage
  5. Organotin compounds
  6. Poly- and Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)
  7. Chlorobenzenes
  8. Chlorophenols
  9. Short-chain chlorinated paraffin
  10. Heavy metals: cadmium, lead, mercury and chromium (VI)

Take APEOs for example, this chemical is used across several products including wetting agents, spinning oils (yarn and fabric), emulsifier/dispersing agents for dyes and prints, impregnating agents, degreasing agents for leather hides, dyes and pigment preparations, and down/feather fillings. APEOs pose minor threat as they are weakly estrogenic. It is not until they are released into the environment and become APs that they begin to bond with other cancer-causing chemical structures.


APs have been known to bond with xeno-estrogens. To us humans, xeno-estrogens have endocrine-disrupting effects such as decreased sperm count, and an increase in testicular, prostate, and breast cancer. To fish, birds, and mammals it is toxic, affecting fertility, decreasing stocks and ecosystems becoming impaired.


Research has found that hazardous chemicals present in clothing can be attributed to skin allergies, carcinogenic causing cancer, and reproductive disruptors. High concentrations of APEOs have been found in greywater after customers wash their clothing items for the first time. The importance of tracing, auditing, and ensuring your products are safe cannot be underestimated. Accreditations that look at human health, as well as environmental impact, provide a wholesome approach to ethics in the fashion supply chain.


Whether you’re a business owner or customer make sure you take a look at OEKO-Tex Standards.

Closed Loop

Australian fashion waste to landfill is amongst the highest in the world. We need brands to rethink their product life cycle and consider the end of life and how clothing might continue in the cycle. For those manufacturing offshore in developing countries where waste the need to rethink the product. This will not only cut greenhouse gas emissions but will also provide a sustainable future for the fashion industry. With all the hazardous chemical effects on human, non-human, and environmental health we desperately need fashion designers to understand what they are creating and ensure it is doing good rather than harm.


When we are mindful of hazardous chemicals and detox, we become mindful of water and when we act with ethics in both - we can create peace for our People + People.

Keen to get started on ethics in your supply chain? Book your first free first 15-minute consult today.