While the chemicals in food and many popular personal hygiene problems get more attention, what we wear can also impact one's health. Past studies have found that the ultra-cheap clothes sold on sites such as Shein and AliExpress (BABAF) contained elevated levels of lead, PFAS and phthalates, for instance.
The latest to come under scrutiny is not just one clothing company but a host of them making a few specific items.
The California-based Center for Environmental Health (CEH) watchdog group sent a warning to sports bra makers like Nike (NKE) - Get Free Report, Athleta (GPS) - Get Free Report, and Victoria's Secret's (VSCO) - Get Free Report Pink about elevated levels of BPA in some of the clothing they sell.
Toxic Chemicals Can Lurk In Sports Bras, Athletic Shirts
BPA is found in certain plastics that, when exposed at high doses, can disrupt people's healthy brain function and eventually lead to certain types of asthma, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
After running a series of tests on various activewear pieces over the last six months, CEH found BPA levels that in some cases were more than 20 times the three-microgram-a-day safe legal limit in California.
"Studies have shown that BPA can be absorbed through skin and end up in the bloodstream after handling receipt paper for seconds or a few minutes at a time," Kaya Allan Sugerman, illegal toxic threats program director at CEH, said in a statement. "Sports bras and athletic shirts are worn for hours at a time, and you are meant to sweat in them, so it is concerning to be finding such high levels of BPA in our clothing."
These include the North Face, Brooks, Mizuno, Athleta, New Balance, and Reebok.
The notice is a sort of warning that asks brands to modify BPA levels in the next 60 days or risk having the watchdog group file a formal complain in California court.
An actual lawsuit could follow but may would face an uphill battle in what would likely need to be a class-action suit – more often, similar studies push companies into action by generating bad publicity around their product.
BPAs And Activewear: A Constant Source Of Friction
CEH claims that it has, to date, pushed over 90 companies to remove bisphenols from everything from clothing to home goods. Concerns over BPAs are more frequently raised in relation to food containers such as lunchboxes and baby bottles but a lot of popular activewear clothing contains them as well due to their presence in synthetic fabrics such as polyester, nylon, and spandex.
The sweat and friction one emits while working out is another reason athletic-style clothing poses a particular risk.
"We want brands to reformulate their products to remove all bisphenols including BPA," a CEH representative told CNN. "In the interim, we recommend limiting the time you spend in your activewear by changing after your workout."
In the past, environmental NGO Greenpeace called out Nike and Adidas (ADDDF) over not doing more to regulate the toxic effects of dyes, solvents, and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in many of its activewear clothing pieces.
The report pushed Adidas to commit to eliminating PFCs, but the presence of harmful chemicals in everything from clothing dyes to the fabric continues to pop up regularly for many popular brands.