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BEWARE TOXIC T-SHIRTS

During production, disposal and combustion of PVC, large quantities of dioxins form as a common, albeit undesirable, by-product. Dioxin's reputation as the most toxic man made chemical created should not be taken lightly. Most attention focuses on dioxins' carcinogenicity, but it is also a potent hormone disrupter, causing an alarming alteration in testosterone levels.

Dioxin is also known to alter concentrations of thyroid hormone. Balanced thyroid function is essential to correct development and growth of the brain and nervous system. Incorrect thyroid hormone levels are known to cause low birth weight, hyperactivity, impaired learning and memory.

Phthalates, another hormone disrupter, make PVC flexible. They are released into the environment during the processing of the plastics that contain them, throughout the life of the finished product, and continue to exhaust toxins after disposal and when exposed to radiant heat (such as sunlight). Phthalates are known toxins to developing embryos, they can cross the placental barrier causing malformation, miscarriages and death. Phthalates have also been shown to reduce testicular size and function. Phthalates are persistent, can bio-accumulate and eventually reach epidemic proportions.

Many current regulations designed to "protect" human health are based on "risk assessment." That is: how much exposure to chemicals people can assume without making a majority of them ill. Such a permissive approach does not consider the total release of pollutants throughout the life cycle of a product from manufacturing, use and disposal. It also does not address the small segment of "hyper-sensitive" individuals more susceptible to adverse chemical reactions than the rest of the population.

T-shirt printing has gone virtually unrecognized in its relationship to use of PVC, though almost all t-shirts are printed with plastisol.

I've been a textile screenprinter for 17 years, after receiving my bachelors degree in textiles from Rochester Institute of Technology. When my son was born in 1993 with an undescended testicle and other minor birth defects, I started to wonder if the fact I had printed t-shirts until nine hours before he was born contributed to his problems.

Independent research led me to reflect on personal associations with other printers in the past decade. Other related circumstances include:

* 1982 - One of my college professors was insistent that all students in his class wear gloves, goggles and chemical respirators. Being clad as a frogman was uncomfortable and "uncool." I queried him on his insistence on those precautions while other professors weren't so strict. He told me of his youngest son's mental disabilities and said while unproven, he believed the defects were related to his and his wife's work at textile printing and the chemicals to which they were exposed.

* 1985 - I landed a job as a t-shirt printer, replacing a woman who also worked right up until the time her son was born. Her son is described as a "slow learner."

* 1986 - While I was production manager of a t-shirt printing shop in New York, one employee was continually ill with stomach and respiratory problems. A battery of tests concluded he had liver problems - as if he had been poisoned!

* 1991 - In December, I suffered a spontaneous miscarriage while operating a t-shirt press. I was unaware that I was pregnant at that time.

* 1992-93 - My partner in my t-shirt shop had three bouts of pneumonia related to a new printing product with which we were experimenting.

* 1993 - My son was born and I began researching the effects of plastisol inks on screen printers. I felt there was a problem, which needed to be addressed, and in 1994, I developed and patented Planet Ink, a botanical, and all natural, chemical free waterbased textile ink.

Some people may attribute the incidents I've described to "coincidence." I feel otherwise. If we poll the t-shirt printing industry, we will find more examples.

Have you ever been outside wearing a beautiful, multi-colored t-shirt and said to yourself, "Boy, this sun is giving me a headache!"

Perhaps it wasn't the sun.

You may never have considered that "beautiful" t-shirt you're wearing is emitting dioxin and phthalate vapors right under your nose!


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