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Dioxins from PCP Treated Cotton

Pesticide Action Network North America Updates Service (PANUPS),

November 18, 1994.

Dioxins from PCP Treated Cotton November 18, 1994 According to a study published earlier this year, German scientists have found that cotton clothing containing high levels of dioxins may be a significant source of both human exposure and environmental contamination. The use of the organochlorine pentachlorophenol (PCP) during the transport of cotton may be a primary source of the dioxins. The scientists feel that textile contamination accounts for the presence of dioxins and furans in domestic sewage sludge, dry cleaning residues and household dust, and also explains how certain dioxins not found in the food supply accumulate in humans.

The researchers analyzed new cotton garments and found that most had low dioxin levels of 0.001 to 1 ppb; however, some garments had levels as high as 1,000 ppb. The scientists showed that dioxin levels in the outer layer of volunteersU skins varied with the contamination of the t-shirts worn. Researchers could not find any patterns to the contamination, and dioxin contents of identical pieces from the same source sometimes differed by a factor of 20 or more.

This variation indicates that the dioxins do not always originate from a textile finishing process since a much more homogenous contamination of the fabric would be expected. Scientists also found that when RcleanS t-shirts were washed with contaminated ones, 7% of the dioxin and furan content was transferred to the clean shirts and 16% washed out into the sewage system.

The researchers measured dioxin levels in household laundry runoff and estimated that they contributed between 27-94% of total dioxin and furan inputs to a local sewage treatment plant that handles primarily domestic sewage. Shower and bath water was also found to contain dioxins of textile origin washed from the skin, adding to contamination of the runoff. Dioxins and furans are found as impurities in various formulations of PCP.

This chemical is widely used as a preservative to prevent mildew during storage and sea transport of cotton. In 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prohibited all non-wood uses of PCP, except for some uses in paper mills and oil wells, and use of PCP in the European Union (EU) is restricted to heavy duty fabrics not intended for clothing. However, most treated cloth comes countries where there are fewer restrictions on the use of PCP. PCP and its sodium salt may be used to control bacterial and fungal growth in working fluids and process chemicals used to treat textiles. Recent textile industry research shows that as much as half of the PCP stays in cloth during the finishing process.

The same type of dioxins have also been found in some dyestuffs and in sodium hypochlorite used to bleach cotton. Source: ENDS Report 235, August 1994; M. Horstmann and M. McLachlan, Environmental Science and Pollution Research, Vol1(1), 1994; PCP (Non-wood Uses) Special Review Document, U.S. EPA Office of Pesticides and Toxic Substances, November 1984.

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