If you plan to give socks, sweatshirts, or other items of clothing as holiday gifts, you need to be aware that many such items are treated with toxic chemicals. Such treated items may be labeled as “odor free” and may contain nanosilver, triclosan (banned in soaps, but allowed in textile and household products), or other (undisclosed) chemicals hiding behind brand names such as Microban® or FreshIQ. Since it is not always possible to determine which chemical may be used in these textiles, the best option is to buy clothing that is organic or made locally.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exempts treated articles from registration requirements under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Although the chemicals themselves may be registered antimicrobial pesticides, the treated products in which they are found—and which expose the public to them—are not considered pesticides. Besides clothing treated with antimicrobials to control odors, EPA also allows seeds, wood, paints, cutting boards, sponges, mops, and even toothbrushes to be treated with antimicrobial pesticides under the exemption—as long as claims made for the treatment only pertain to protecting the treated article. For example, sock manufacturers may claim that the treated socks won’t stink but may not claim that they will protect the wearer from athlete’s foot.
Failure to regard treated articles as pesticides has serious implications. Manufacturers are not required to reveal the actual chemicals to which consumers are exposed. Studies have found that, when impregnated into textiles like sportswear, nanosilver does not just wash out in the washing machine, it can also seep into a person’s sweat and end up being absorbed into the skin. The size of nanosilver means that it can easily pass into the body’s blood and lymph system, and circulate through sensitive areas such as the brain, liver, and heart. Triclosan has been linked to a range of health and environmental effects, from skin irritation, allergy susceptibility, bacterial and compounded antibiotic resistance, and dioxin contamination to destruction of fragile aquatic ecosystems.
EPA does not evaluate the effects of exposure to these fabrics. It does not apply the risk-benefit standard in FIFRA to these uses. It simply considers them outside of the scope of pesticide regulation.