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The Toxic Wrinkle in My Wrinkle-Free Shirts


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View Emily Enderle's blog posts
08 February 2011, 12:56 PM
Is this convenience too good to be true?
Emily at work.

(Editor's note: This is a cross post from Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.)

In this fast-paced world, who has time for ironing?

Not me. Between educating policy-makers on the need to protect Americans from toxic chemicals during the week and playing sports on the weekends, I barely have time to wash my clothes let alone iron them.

Not only is ironing time consuming, it somehow manages to be both futile and really scary at the same time. By the time I finish navigating that chrome-coated burn machine around the buttons, cuffs, and collars on my work shirts, about all I have to show for my efforts is a moderately less wrinkled shirt and a scalded forearm or two. Seriously, the bounce cycle on my dryer produces more consistent results.

Which is why when I discovered wrinkle-free (!) shirts, I thanked my lucky stars and quickly stocked my work wardrobe with multiple colors and styles of these perpetually pressed wonders.

For a while, it was bliss. Like a great companion, my shirts were stylish, low-maintenance, supported my demanding career, and allowed me time to pursue my own interests.

But it wasn’t long until this relationship, like so many others, turned toxic.

I’d heard rumors about how wrinkle-free shirts were too good to be true. But when I saw an article in the New York Times spelling out in black-and-white exactly how my beloved shirts were emitting carcinogenic formaldehyde fumes, I couldn’t ignore the rumors any longer (even in spite of this tongue-in-cheek defense of formaldehyde in products).

I know I’m not alone. Our nation’s broken chemical law—the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA)—doesn’t require chemical makers to prove the 80,000 chemicals made in the U.S. are safe before they end up in our homes, schools, and places of work. Which means every day, on retail counters across the country, consumers are entering into partnerships with products we think will make our lives simpler, better, more fulfilling. Only to someday discover these products have toxic secrets, forcing us to decide: do I keep this product in my life? Or cut it out for good?

Unfortunately, most of the time the American public has very little choice. Rather than innovate to test and manufacture chemical alternatives that are safe for our bodies and the environment, the chemical industry is occupying its time playing dirty tricks on consumers and Congressional leaders to stall efforts to reform the law.

So what’s a career girl on the go to do? It’s a nasty tradeoff, sure, but for now I’ll keep my formaldehyde-fuming wrinkle-free shirts. And use the time I save by not ironing to continue fighting like hell to reform our country’s broken chemical laws so we can all one day soon have it all.

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