Fabrics, pesticides and herbicides

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Several years ago I started having skin (and breathing) reactions to many fabrics and/or dyes. Soon I realized I could no longer wear synthetics against my skin, nor sleep on them. My alternatives are cotton, silk, wool and linen.

That eventually led me to Maggie's Organics http://www.organicclothes.com/ for cotton or linen clothing. One thing that really impressed me about their site is the following information on growing cotton organically vs conventionally (which they gave me permission to copy here, by the way).

Below you will find some enlightening information about Conventional Cotton growing practices prevalent in the US. This information is largely responsible for getting us into the Organic Cotton business. Once one realizes the enormity of the pesticides and chemicals used each year to grow and process cotton, it is easy to see why we are so passionate about what we do.

* Cotton is the second most pesticide-laden crop in the world —after Coffee and before Tobacco.

* The world’s Cotton crop represents approximately 3% of all cultivated land. This same crop utilizes 25% of the world's annual pesticide production, and 10% of the annual herbicide production.

* Five of the top nine pesticides used on cotton in the U.S. (cyanide, dicofol, naled, propargite, and trifluralin) are KNOWN cancer-causing chemicals. All nine are classified by the U.S. EPA as Category I and II— the most dangerous chemicals.

* It is estimated that it takes approximately 1/3 pound of chemicals to grow enough cotton to make just one T-shirt.

* In the U.S. today, it takes approximately 8-10 years, and $100 million to develop a new pesticide for use on cotton. It takes approximately 5-6 years for weevils and other pests to develop an immunity to that same new pesticide.

* Cottonseed, the by-product of ginning cotton fiber, accounts for 60% of the yield from each harvest. The cottonseed is where the most concentrated amounts of pesticide residues remain. Some of this cottonseed is made into oil; the oil you read on the ingredient labels of cookies, cakes, and snacks. Some of this cottonseed is sent to our dairies and cattle ranches. This chemical cottonseed ‘enriches’ the butterfat in dairy, and marbles the beef that we eat.

* In California, it has become illegal to feed the leaves, stems, and short fibers of cotton known as ‘gin trash’ to livestock, because of the concentrated levels of pesticide residue. Instead, this gin trash is used to make furniture, mattresses, swabs, cottonballs and tampons. The average American woman will use 11,000 tampons during her lifetime.

* During a tour of California’s San Joaquin valley, where over 18 million pounds of pesticides are sprayed annually onto one million acres of cotton, a group stopped at two enormous toxic settlement ponds, where contaminated water from the fields is drained and left to seep into the soil. This water contains huge concentrations of salt, selenium, boron and pesticide runoff, which has caused serious damage to soil and groundwater. "(This land) It will never be usable again" says Will Allen, of the Sustainable Cotton Project. "And I don’t mean in our lifetimes; I mean forever."

* In California’s San Joaquin Valley, estimates are that less than 25% of a pesticide sprayed from a crop duster ever hits the crop. The remainder can drift for several miles, coming to rest on fruit and vegetable crops, and farm- workers. One year more than one hundred workers fell ill after a single incident of such drift onto an adjacent vineyard.

* One of the commonly used pesticides on cotton throughout the world, endosulfan, leached from cottonfields into a creek in Lawrence County, Alabama during heavy rains in 1995. Within days 245,000 fish were killed over 16 mile stretch. 142,000 pounds of endosulfan were used in California in 1994.

* The problems with clothing production don’t stop in the field. During the conversion of conventional cotton into clothing, numerous toxic chemicals are added at each stage— silicone waxes, harsh petroleum scours, softeners, heavy metals, flame and soil retardants, ammonia, and formaldehyde— to name just a few.

I mostly buy my summer socks from Maggie's site, and usually just the misfits because of my budget, and I appreciate their socially responsible business practices tremendously.

I had a hard time finding a mattress pad with 100% cotton filler. Most just have cotton covering over polyfill. Sheets are a problem also. I do find I can use synthetics somewhat IF I have a barrier between my skin and them.

I know there must be other organic clothing and household fabrics sites now.

So, what others have these increasing problems? How do you address them? It took 5 hospital stays over a 3 year period for doctors to finally narrow mine down to "Environmental Allergies" which is really different than allergies from the environment like pollens.

Northeast, WA(Zone 5a)

Darius, those figures are astounding. You poor thing. Must be awfully hard on you to shop. I think that is probably the best thing about the internet. It saves our feet, gas, and time. Plus much more.


So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Well, I cannot sleep so I thought I'd add to my earlier post above.

Years ago my mother who was a dressmaker had a client who was a university librarian and mother made all her clothes. When Libby got to be around 50 or so she started having problems with wearing certain fabrics.

Libby would buy all natural fabrics and mother would have to wash them in soap without perfumes before even cutting out the pattern. Later on Libby's environmental allergies got so bad that she had to have her car's entire interior stripped and reupholstered.

Of course I thought then that it was all hogwash, or all in her head, or just maybe some rare disease. However, I'm beginning to see some forms of it all around me, not just in fabric allergies... kids with asthma, ADD, ADHD, an overweight poulation, and myriad other problems that surely have to have SOME connection with all the crap we have been putting in our environment and foods for years.

I live on a creek where my neighbors still use Roundup and they cannot make the connection between herbicides and not having edible fish in the creek.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Another factor in my battle with Environmental Allergies was unseen mold hidden in wall cavities, and a high Radon level in my apartment. They put me in the hospital and then on supplemental oxygen, mostly at night. Now after being away from that house for 2 years, I'm off the oxygen.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

Sorry to hear about all the problems you've had--I haven't had anything like that but I'm definitely hearing about more and more people who have. If you're looking for more places that sell clothing/household products that are organic and environmentally friendly, a good place to start is to pick up an issue of Natural Home & Garden magazine--they have articles about subjects like this and lots of those sorts of retailers advertise in there.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Thanks. I used to pick up a copy of Natural Home occasionally when it first came out... I was impressed at what information they provided for Green Building.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

It was my intention on this thread to point out some facts about the sustainability of fabric crops grown organically, and not my own problems.

Ida, MI

Its clear that so many things we are in contact with daily are not sustainable and can be downright unhealthy. You think cotton you think safe natural product, unfortunately this is not the case. Thanks for bringing this up darius, it never even occured to me.

Greensboro, AL

Im not sure what cotton poison is, but people around here say thats what killed the soil, and thats what killed the animals. Old people will tell me, you can't plant a vegetable garden there, that was cotton land. My old neighbor told me the frogs disappeared here because of cotton poison. In the 1830s this land was considered to be some of the most productive in the world. A neutral sandy loam formed on the old pleistocene beaches. Today, the only farms in the area are catfish farms. Most of the vegetables in the local super market come from Brazil.

Most people here do not know that it is not a normal thing to live on land that will not grow a crop.

Lower Hudson Valley, NY(Zone 6b)

Wow - never heard of that, Gloria.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Gloria, I spent some teen years in SC where cotton had once been King. Same story as yours. Land is now worthless but with due diligence I hope it can be reclaimed.

Did you know they brought in Talapia as a trash fish to clean the wastes from the catfish ponds? And now they SELL it????

Greensboro, AL

Back home we had a "cow pond" -- a water hole where the cows drank. It was big enough that we built a raft and did some fine sailing round and round. At one point it was infested with blood suckers. Leeches that would attack turtles and frogs, leaving them gasping on the banks along the edge of the pond. It was impossible to swim in our swimmin' hole without getting leeches stuck to us. The remedy was to stock the pond with catfish. The leeches disappeared, but the catfish had spiny fins that would cut your feet if you stepped on one. Anyhow, catfish are not really an upgrade fish either, such as a brook trout for example. Local catfish are fed grain, I think. They are advertised as grain-fed catfish.

Darius, Spot: Have you investigated residues in the fabric that may be causing the reaction?

Lumberton, TX(Zone 8b)

Maggie's stuff is so nice, but mighty pricey IMHO. I have some tights of theirs and like them a lot. I hate to complain about the money, but gee whiz! It's hard to pay $15 for a cotton camisole when you can get an ordinary one for $5. Admittedly not as good, but wow.

It's not just the chemicals that are used to grow the cotton -- it's detergents (it's hard to convince my mother "nature fresh" is NOT the same as "perfume and dye free") and fabric softeners. I can't understand how people can use those little softener sheets. They don't soften the fabric, they coat it with something and I think it feels terrible. It leaves towels unabsorbent and frankly they smell like pesticide to me. I'm moving more and more toward just using Dr. Bronner's for everything.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

I only buy the Maggie's stuff that's Seconds, like my socks.

Greensboro, AL


here is some information on bamboo fabrics


This message was edited Mar 27, 2007 11:01 AM

Shenandoah Valley, VA

Wow, that's pretty interesting stuff. On the high amount of pesticides used on tobacco - my grandfather was a tobacco farmer. There was only one "pesticide" he used on his tobacco plants - paying my mother and her eight siblings a penny for every coffee can full of tobacco worms they picked off the plants.

Of course that kind of insect control isn't available to farmers any more, and kids today wouldn't think a penny was much in the way of pay. Nor are their likely to be many small family farms making a living growing tobacco. No one has farmed my grandparents' old place since they sold it in the early 50s.

Helena, MT(Zone 4b)

One of the best sources of information I've found for people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities is the CIIN newsletter, "Our Toxic Times". Check out the Chemical Injury Information Network at http://www.ciin.org/

Browse through http://www.chem-tox.com/guest/guestbook.html for testimonies about toxic mattresses.

I did a lot of research on mattresses and bedding. There is a shocking new law coming into force in June or July, I believe. It requires much higher levels of fire retardants in new mattresses. PBDEs and other retardants are endocrine disruptors. You can easily wind up with something like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia from mattresses now, with their current levels of these chemicals (or get sick from the foam, which offgasses other chemicals). People often don't realize why they are sick, but they end up spending even more time in bed as a result.

After this law takes effect, I've read that we may need a doctor's prescription to get an organic mattress. We bought a 100% natural latex mattress in January. It is hypoallergenic. It is also very comfortable.

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