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Harmful Chemical Found in 75 Sock Brands

The California-based Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has found elevated BPA (bisphenol A) levels in socks, primarily made of polyester with spandex, from several brands.

All size ranges are included, but the emphasis is on babies’/children’s socks. Different blends of polyester, cotton and spandex were tested and the concentrations found were up to 19 times above the California safe limit of the chemical. Socks predominantly made from cotton were not affected.

BPA can be added in the manufacturing of polyester as an intermediary step to improve the natural properties and lifespan of a fabric. In the production of polyester fabric, BPA can be used to create hygroscopic and antistatic fabric with color fastness to washing. BPA and other bisphenols may also be used as dye-fixing agents for polyester and polyamide textiles.

In addition, BPA can be used in the production of flame retardants, fungicides, antioxidants and in PVC production. It may also be used in spandex production for antistatic properties.

“Studies have shown that BPA can be absorbed through your skin and end up in the bloodstream after handling receipt paper for seconds or a few minutes at a time,” said Dr. Jimena Díaz Leiva, science director at CEH. “Socks are worn for hours at a time, so it is concerning to be finding such high levels of BPA, particularly in those made for babies and children.”

CEH said research has shown that early life exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals like BPA can increase the risk of infants developing a range of diseases during childhood and later in adulthood. Exposure to these chemicals during critical periods of development can increase the risk of adverse health outcomes.

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“BPA was originally designed as an estrogen,” said Tyrone Hayes, professor of integrative biology at University of California, Berkeley. “Given the many adverse effects of exogenous estrogenic compounds, BPA should not be in our clothing, food packaging or anything else that humans (or any animal for that matter) will come in contact with.”

Based on their findings and according to California Proposition 65, the CEH sent 60-day notices to 75 sock brands in September, including Adidas, Champion, Gap, Hanes, New Balance and Reebok. According to the Prop 65 process, defendants will have 60 days to work with CEH to remedy the violations, such as providing Prop 65 warning labels for the presence of BPA with their products when sold, before CEH files a complaint.

CEH said some companies have responded and are working collaboratively with CEH to begin the process of removing BPA from their products.

“CEH uses California’s Proposition 65 as a tool to move companies to eliminate toxic chemicals from their products, and Prop 65 lists BPA as a chemical that harms the reproductive system,” Kaya Allan Sugerman, Illegal Toxic Threats program director at CEH, said. “BPA is not a necessary ingredient in socks and manufacturers must immediately remove it.”