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Toxic textiles

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Why is Australia importing potentially harmful chemical-laden kids’ clothing, asks KYLIE McGREGOR.

Twice this year already, we have seen clothing and bed linen pulled from shelves in Australian stores due to high levels of chemicals that pose a potential cancer risk.

The recalled items include children’s and babies clothing and jeans (both adult and children’s) from retailers such as Myer, Target, Rivers, Just Jeans, Trade Secret, Cotton On and Jeanswest. Bed linen was also recalled from Pillow Talk stores around the country.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), more than 120,000 items have been recalled so far this year due to high levels of hazardous azo dyes, which can break down into carcinogenic chemicals and be absorbed into the skin.

Azo dyes are synthetic dyes used for colouring a variety of goods including clothes, carpets, textiles and cosmetics.

“While consumer exposure to hazardous azo dyes is likely to be very low, the associated cancer risks give cause for concern,” the ACCC said in a statement.

“As expert authorities recommend minimising exposure – the ACCC and suppliers have advised consumers should stop using clothing or linen that has been recalled.”

The use of azo dyes is not banned in Australia and begs the question why not, when there are known possible health risks. 

In March, Independent Senator for South Australia, Nick Xenophon, called on the ACCC to block imports of dangerous chemicals in clothing following the recall.

“It’s astonishing that there appears to be no laws or rules in place to restrict the importation of products containing azo dyes,” Senator Xenophon said in a statement.

He said bans and restrictions were in place in Europe and the United States but in Australia there were reportedly no legal barriers to importing azo dyed products.

“Why should Australian consumers, especially kids, be subject to lesser standards than those in Europe and the US?” he asked.

Understandably, many people and parents are alarmed at the potentially harmful health risks of contaminated clothing – especially to young children and babies, whose bodies cannot filter chemicals as adults can. 

In the July/August issue of ABC Organic Gardener magazine, we look at how to set up a baby nursery that is free of toxins and harmful chemicals and the importance of organic clothing, bedding and skin care. Plus  you can read more about ethical clothing manufacture in an article from our November December 2011 issue.