Friday, January 18, 2013

Closet full of formaldehyde?

Do your eyes light up when you find a shirt for yourself or your hubby that reads 'iron free' or 'wrinkle free'? 

Do you seek out those "easy care"  bed  linens that come out of the dryer looking so much neater than the wrinkled mess the normal linens do? Yes! One less thing to iron! .... But did you know that anti wrinkle finish comes from a resin that releases formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde?   In your clothes?  In your children's bed linens?

 What is formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde is a colorless gas that is classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

For iron free textiles, Formaldehyde basically keeps the fabric’s fibers in place after being placed in a washing machine. Without it, the fibers would become wrinkled or the creases would fade.

Additionally, the chemical is frequently used to prevent mildew during shipping.

How is my family being exposed to formaldehyde?
It's not only used in 'iron free' shirts and bed linens, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, formaldehyde is actually present in a lot more products than you would think.... many of which are quite possibly inside your home already.
 - building materials, such as sheet vinyl flooring, doors, decking
 - timber materials, such as MDF, particleboard, plywood and laminated timber ( think furniture used for drawer fronts, cabinets, and furniture tops)
- wall lining and coverings such as wallpaper

 - textiles and clothing, such as fabrics, blankets, and clothing finishes designed to gain permanent press and stain resistance ('iron free")

 - cosmetics and personal care products, such as cleansers, fingernail varnishes and hardeners, shampoos and conditioners, toothpastes and hair straightening solutions
 - household cleaning products, such as carpet and rug cleaners, disinfectants, dish washing liquids, and floor cleaner and polish.

 Can it affect my children?
 For most of the population the, admittedly, low levels of formaldehyde that are found in clothes will result in no visible health effects.

 For some children and adults with sensitive skin, however, it could result in contact dermatitis ( itchy skin, rashes and blisters) . In fact, an estimated 1.2 to 2.3 per cent of USA eczema sufferers have dermatitis caused by textile formaldehyde resin.

 What is important to point out, as is the case with most chemicals, is that the cumulative effects of being exposed to this formaldehyde in small doses (in clothes, on our bed linens, on our rugs, furniture, hair straighteners etc ) have not been studied. Considering that it is classification as a human carcinogen, the potential long term cumulative effects could be serious.

Non-Toxic Munchkin 123: How to reduce your family's exposure to formaldehyde

 1. Avoid buying 'iron free ' or ' easy care' clothing or linens. Yes, this might mean some extra time ironing (although if you take the shirts out of the dryer quickly you can sometimes avoid having to iron them.... or at the very least save time ironing), but avoiding daily exposure to formaldehyde could be worth it!

 2. Wash your clothes and linens before using them for the first time... while not all of the formaldehyde will wash off, some will. Wash ALL clothes and linens, not just the ones labelled as 'iron free', since formaldehyde is also used as a disinfectant before shipping and used to help clothes in stores look crisp.

3. Buy organic. I make an effort, especially when my son was a newborn, to buy organic pijamas.  I figured that pijamas are a good start since it is the one piece of clothing our kids spend the most time in. Ditto for crib and mattress sheets.

4. Avoid furniture made of particleboard or MDF.  This means spending more money on furniture, which is not always an option. If you do have to buy this kind of furniture, air it out outdoors or in a well-ventilated area before using it. The US's EPA recommends the use of “exterior-grade” pressed-wood products to limit formaldehyde exposure in the home, since apparently "exterior -grade' uses less formaldehyde during production.

5. Avoid household and personal care products that have these ingredients or materials: quaternium 15, bronopol (also written as 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol), diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate (for a detailed list of products that contain formaldehyde read the Household Products Database)

 ** a special note on formaldehyde and hair straightening products... for all those munchkin moms who might be interested....

The dangers of 'Brazilian blowout" hair straightening  treatments made the news quite a lot last year.   Many of the products with elevated levels of formaldehyde have been deemed illegal and are no longer in use, but the reality is that many with lower levels of the chemical are still being used in salons all over the world.  According to the US Department of Labor, many products labelled as 'formaldehyde free"  have also been found to release the chemical.  In general, it is a good idea to avoid these products, ESPECIALLY if you are pregnant.  Needless to say, taking your newborn to a hair or nail salon that uses these products would best be avoided. 

The United States Department of Labor has identified several brand-name products that contain formaldehyde or that can expose you to formaldehyde during use.  Their website lists these brands and has more information 

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