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Axing Aniline: Is it Really that Dangerous?

The list of chemicals involved in making fashion-forward jeans is extensive, and frankly controversial.

After prominent players in the denim industry sounded off their concerns for Aniline, a chemical used in indigo dyeing, during the recent Kingpins Transformers, the substance garnered new attention from many.

Aniline is used by major brands in the denim industry—despite a growing campaign against the chemical and its possible links to cancer. So far, Scandinavians are the only ones cited going completely Aniline-free.

Aniline is the main raw material used in the manufacturing of indigo. It was first obtained and isolated from indigo in 1826, taking its name from the actual plant where the substance was found—Indigofera anil.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) reports that Aniline has been under the organizations statutes/regulations since 1978—making the possible dangers of the substance known for over the last 30 years.

The EPA spoke on the possible consequences of Aniline exposure, beyond the classification of a possible carcinogen, explaining that the chemical vapors can also be absorbed through the skin. This enforces anxiety among denimheads due to the skin contact associated with wearing a garment that crossed paths with the chemical.

“Acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) exposure to Aniline has been associated with alterations in the oxygen-capacity of the blood leading to symptoms of hypoxia, including headache, increased heart rate, dizziness, breathlessness and narcosis,” said the EPA in a statement to RIVET. “Additionally, Aniline has the potential to cause cancer in humans based on animal data reporting tumors of the spleen following repeated, long-term exposure to Aniline.”

However, the EPA also said that they are unaware “of any recent issues with Aniline and denim,” assuaging those concerned about the possible ban from the industry.

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While chemical companies must strive to keep up with ever-changing chemical limitations, Garmon Chemicals does not work with Aniline. However, Alberto De Conti, Garmon Chemicals CMO, weighed in on the subject from a personal standpoint.

“If indigo was a dye that was going to be presented for registration for the very first time today, [it’s] very likely it wouldn’t go through,” said De Conti. “Now, the way it’s used… personally, I think is quite free of any risk for the workers that are performing the dyeing processes, as well as, [no,] especially for the consumers that wear denim every day.”

Denim is not the only industry to use the chemical. Basic inorganic chemical manufacturers, agricultural chemical manufacturing, petrochemicals, plastic, resin, rubber, and synthetic dyes all use or are associated with Aniline in some way.

For those convinced that the livelihood of blue jeans will not be the same if an Aniline ban comes to fruition, not to worry—denim can be dyed without the chemical. Miguel Sanchez, Archroma head of global business development—denim & casualwear also explained that the company, along with many others, use other resources to dye jeans.

“But this will not mean in any way that denim will be endangered,” said Sanchez. “Actually, indigo is only another dye used for coloring denim warps, and it is extremely frequent that it is combined with other dyes for obtaining different shades, casts and looks. In addition to all this, not all the ‘blue denim’ currently in the shops is actually indigo.”

Sanchez points out the various alternatives offered within the denim industry that keep Aniline out of the equation.

“It is not the only dyestuff used for coloring the denim warp. In addition, there are already potential solutions to complement it—or even replace it,” said Sanchez. “There are options to keep denim being a highly fashionable and continuously evolving apparel article, without compromising environmental or human protection.”

As for a future ban on Aniline, the EPA urged that their organization is “working to implement the new requirements of the [Toxic Substance Control Act]. The EPA will consider chemicals already on the market as the Agency identifies priorities for risk evaluation.”

For those outside of the U.S., the release of the new Carcinogenic, Mutagenic, Reprotoxic list of chemical substances in the European Union will no doubt add pressure to denim producers to limit or abolish their Aniline use.

Despite industry concerns, those in the denim world urge people not to panic. Until a real ban occurs, use of the chemical, in extremely small form, should not cause buyers extra anxiety. The industry will take note and alter their products accordingly.

Alberto Candiani, co-owner and global manager of Candiani Denim, explained why he feels that the use of Aniline in denim production should not be over analyzed.

“At the moment we simply know Aniline is a minor fraction inside indigo’s molecular composition,” said Candiani. “There is no exposure to Aniline whatsoever in our mill and there is no trace of it after the yarns get dyed with Indigo, woven and finished. At the same time at Candiani we have developed several alternatives to indigo dyes we can define ‘Aniline Free,’—let’s not throw indigo under the bus.”