The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast

Episode 35: Toxic Fashion. A Conversation with Alden Wicker.

November 12, 2023 Alden Wicker Episode 35
The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast
Episode 35: Toxic Fashion. A Conversation with Alden Wicker.
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Episode 35 of The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast is available now!

 It’s called “Toxic Fashion.” 

It features a conversation with Alden Wicker, author of “To Dye For: How Toxic Fashion Is Making Us Sick – and How we can Fight Back.”

The book explores the impacts of clothing made with synthetic materials and dyes derived from fossil fuels. 

In this interview, Wicker talks about the connection between clothing, textiles, and MCS.

Thank you for listening!

Please share your feedback with us. We love hearing from you.

Alden Wicker

EcoCult

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Aaron Goodman 00:05 

Welcome to The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast. I’m Aaron Goodman, host and founder of the podcast. I’m a journalist, documentary maker, University instructor and Communication Studies researcher, and I lived with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or MCS for years. MCS is also known as Environmental Illness, Chemical Intolerance and Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance or TILT, and it affects millions around the world. Many people with the condition are dismissed the healthcare workers, employers, friends, even family. Countless people with MCS struggle to find healthy housing, get accommodation, work and school, and we suffer in all kinds of ways. 

The purpose of The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast is to help raise awareness about MCS, and what it’s like for people who live with it. We’ve featured interviews with some of the world’s leading experts and researchers on MCS, and lots of people with the condition. We’re just getting started. 

I'm grateful to listeners who support the podcast. If you’d like to make a monthly contribution or a one-time donation, please find links on the website, chemicalsensitivitypodcast.org. Your support will help us continue making the podcast available and creating greater awareness about MCS. Thank you very much. The podcast belongs to the community. And the purpose is to advocate for all of us. And your help really means a lot.

This is episode 35. It’s called "Toxic Fashion."  It features a conversation with Alden Wicker, author of the book, ““To Dye For: How Toxic Fashion is Making Us Sick- and How We Can Fight Back.” The book explores the impacts of clothing made with synthetic materials and dyes derived from fossil fuels. In this interview, Alden talks about the connection between clothing, textiles, and MCS. I hope you get a lot out of the conversation and this episode. 

We release new episodes twice a month. Please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can find us on social media, just search with The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast, or podcasting MCS. Leave your comments about anything you hear on the podcast. Please share the podcast with others. Find the podcast on YouTube. Go to YouTube, search for The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast. Click subscribe. And there you can read captions in any language you like. Leave a review on Apple podcasts. It’s a great way to help others learn about the podcast. And if there’s someone you’d like to hear interviewed on the podcast or a topic you’d like us to explore, just let us know, email info@chemicalsensitivitypodcast.org Thanks for listening.

 

Aaron Goodman 02:54

Alden, thanks so much for joining me. It’s been I’ve been looking forward to this. Thank you.

Alden Wicker 03:00

Yeah, thank you so much for having me.


Aaron Goodman 3:02

Do you want to tell folks a little bit more about how you got interested in this topic? I’m sure you get asked this a lot. But was there maybe a specific moment when you realized this is something you want to spend a lot of time exploring and writing the book?

 

Alden Wicker 03:20

Yeah, so I have been writing about sustainable fashion since 2011. Since way before it was cool. And in 2019, this radio program called me up they said that some airline attendants were suing an airline, and their uniform maker. Because the uniforms, were making them sick. And this radio show wanted me to comment on it. And I said, I had no idea what was going on. I had never heard of this before. And so that started a very long journey. It’s now four years later and around looking into why were these attendants getting sick? You know, what was happening? What was in the uniforms? And is this happening to the rest of us? And I did find the answer to all of those questions. But it’s really relevant for our discussion today. Because one of the things that came out of a lot of this research is there was a study out of Harvard, studying the health of attendants from the first airline that this happened that and the research showed that instances of a bunch of different illnesses doubled and one of them was Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.

 So a lot of a lot of attendants or several attendants that I talked to, one of the main things that happened was that after overexposure to whatever was in these uniforms, uh, you know, they wear them for 12 hours a day they wear them in this inside this steel tube of air and Amongst other people who are wearing the same thing, they would become disabled by their sensitivity or their intolerance to whatever was in these uniforms. So that’s, that’s one chapter of my book, which is exploring this connection. And through this avenue of fashion. This chapter became about so much more than just fashion because a lot of the people I talked to, they were set off by something else and then became sensitive to fashion, or they were set off by fashion and became sensitive to a lot of other things. So there’s all this really new, exciting research around the ways this manifests a bio mechanism, which I can talk about, but it was a both a lot of devastating research that I came across, but also very exciting, because we’re starting to understand this a little bit more. 

 

Aaron Goodman 05:58

So people working for airlines have actually developed Multiple Chemical Sensitivity from the clothes they were required to wear. And we hear about this in other industries as well. Right courier companies, I’m sure you’ve come across it. Is it prevalent in other industries as well, as far as you know? 

 

Alden Wicker 6:19

Yeah, actually. So this is by not by coincidence, but I ended up doing an investigation for a Vermont outlet called Vermont Digger around polygon polyurethane spray foam insulation. And I, in my research, I came across the fact that some people who work in the industry applying the spray foam can become sensitized to isocyanates, which are the things that off gas from polyurethane foam, not just insulation, but also you know, your memory foam mattresses, other things like that. And what really struck me in this totally unrelated interview to fashion was somebody saying, oh, yeah, I think it’s around 20% of people who work in the industry who seemed to be susceptible to being to being sensitized to isocyanates. 

And that number really struck me because that number one in five, around 20%, just kept on coming up for me in a variety of different ways. You know, one in five people will have contact dermatitis in their lifetime, around 20% of airline attendants reported that they were having reactions to their uniforms. And then According to research from Claudia S. Miller, who studies she calls it toxic and induced loss of tolerance, but essentially, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity around 20%, or more than 20% of people report some sort of chemical intolerance. So it comes up in several ways across across our society. 

 

Aaron Goodman 08:04

Yeah, and Claudia Miller, I believe they’re up to like 37% up to that among the general population, but the 20% you’re referring to and for folks who may have missed it, isocyanate. 

 

Alden Wicker 08:19

Yeah. Yeah. isocyanates. So these isocyanates are the ingredients that they use one of the ingredients they use to make polyurethane foam. So and then they can they can off gas from uncured foam. So most of the foam that you get is cured. It’s done. It was made in the factory, it’s to you, but like there is some off-gassing that can happen and it could be particularly severe and a bad spray foam job. But also Yeah, memory foam mattresses, cushions, other furniture. 

 

Aaron Goodman 08:55

Got it. So we’re talking about people who are installing foam. Understood. Alden before you embarked on this research how much did you know about Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or Toxic and Induced Loss of Tolerance? Was it something that was on your radar?

 

Alden Wicker 9:10

I had heard of it. I think I think a lot of people may know more about it than they know because I think a lot of people, myself included, you know and love people who will say, you know I’m sensitive to scented products. I can’t be around scented products or you know, I get really itchy or I get headaches but they don’t call it Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. So the

reason why I ended up looking into it was I was just looking, I was following every thread around fashion toxicity. And I had heard of people being sensitive to clothing as part of a broader array of stuff they couldn’t tolerate when they have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. So I decided to look into it and then I just, you know, fell down this rabbit hole.

 

Aaron Goodman 10:00

Yeah, and it’s really great for listeners, you know, as you sailed and, you do devote an entire chapter to chapter six to Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. And it’s quite a deep dive, which is fantastic. You talked about bio mechanism, and I’m not expecting you to be an expert in the science of, you know, like the bio mechanism. But is there anything you learned along your journey that you’d like to share with us? 

 

Alden Wicker 10:25

Yeah. So for a really, really long time, until recently, there was just nobody understood why you could have such a strong report such a strong reaction, and there not be any sort of marker or way to test for it. So you show up to the doctor, and you say, I, you know, I have brain fog and fatigue, and headaches, and racing heart, or all of these different things, or rashes. And the doctor does all these tests. And they say, well, there’s nothing there. So we don’t have anything to tell you. Or maybe you should see a psychologist or something like that. And this bio, and like, without understanding why it’s happening, they’re not gonna be able to diagnose it, and they can’t really tell you what to do. Because, you know, doctors are very much like evidence-based science. So instead of just like believing what you’re telling them. 

So the bio mechanism that Claudia S. Miller has really pinpointed. But this is coming up in other ways in research is mast cells, m-a-s-t. So mast cells, they’re this like, very ancient mechanism, that, that they just protect every place in your body that is exposed to outside things. So your skin, obviously, but also your digestive system, because your food moving through your digestive system. And so when they encounter something

toxic, they they like, mobilize and attack it. And that’s, that’s inflammation that can manifest as inflammation. So they released these things called cytokines inflammation, okay, great. They’re doing their job. 

But if you keep, like, bombarding that part of your body with this toxic, this toxic thing, there’s like more and more inflammation, and then they sort of, I kind of, it’s a metaphor, but it’s sort of like they’re traumatized, right, they’re like a soldier that’s come back from war. And when they hear fireworks, they think they’re under attack. And it’s sort of a similar thing, where they see a chemical that’s similar to a tiny, tiny bit of a chemical that’s similar to what’s been attacking them. And they freak out and they release the cytokines. And that’s sort of the that’s the bio mechanism behind this, right,

like, you’ve been in salt, your body’s been insulted and insulted with something so much, that if it encounters just a tiny bit, it’s like us, and it inflammation and brain fog, and all of these different things throughout the body start to happen. And, yeah, that’s a gross oversimplification. I am not the researcher. I am. I am trying to explain it in layman’s terms. But I think I hope that’s clear. 

 

Aaron Goodman 13:11

Yeah. And we’ve, you know, we’ve had guests on who’ve been involved in some of that research. So I appreciate it. And I don’t know if you had a science background. And I think people who listening might be wondering, and as much as you’re willing, do you have lived experience with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity by chance? 

 

Alden Wicker 13:32

No, I don’t, you know, I just, like I said, I ended up doing this deep dive because I

wanted to look at all these different ways. The toxicity of fashion could manifest in people’s lives. And this was one of them. But I will say that I think it’s been really interesting for me, as someone who’s sort of an outside, I guess, quote, unquote, unbiased observer to go through this world because I think, you know, it can really drive you crazy to have people not believe you, and then it creates this feedback loop of people don’t believe you, so you

get more and more passionate about it. And I think having somebody like me, who maybe doesn’t have that lived experience, but it can call themselves the unbiased observer to look through all of this research to listen to people’s stories and connect it all together and say, Nope, there’s definitely something here this is legitimate and deserves being looked into I think that could be really beneficial.

 

Aaron Goodman 14:32

Well, thanks so much for you know, I totally agree with you. It’s really valuable and really appreciated. And you know, we want I want to talk about a lot of stuff but in terms of since we’re on you know, the link between toxic fashion and MCS, in your research, how concerned did you become about that particular link? You know, we you write about the links between toxic fashion and a number of health conditions, infertility, miscarriage hormone disruption, and I think people will be interested that but because this is the MCS Podcast, how much did those alarm bells go off for you about that link?

 

Aden Wicker 15:11

About the link between fashion and MCS? 

 

Aaron Goodman 15:15

Yeah, right. So whether it’s, you know, we know that a lot of people with MCS have difficulty, you know, finding clothes that we can wear. And also you write about the the triggering the onset that happens from fashion. So maybe we’ll take the second part of that later about how we can find clothes that work for us. But what about like the linkage of, you know, people developing the illness, Multiple Chemical Sensitive from fashion? How concerned are you about that? Not just, you know, people who work in airlines or courier courier people who work for courier companies or others or people installing foam, but just like the everyday person, how concerned are you?

 

Alden Wicker 15:59

I’m I’m pretty concerned. I mean, the problem we have is that we just don’t have a lot of research. And so one of the things that I found for every type of toxicity related to fashion is that we all wear such a wide variety of fashion products every day. And we’re all wearing different things. And a lot of times reactions can come not at the moment we touch something, but hours days later, it’s really hard to figure out to make that link. I mean, a lot of the even the attendants I’ve talked to said, Well, you know, I didn’t make the link for months. And these are people who are wearing the same thing every day who are talking to other people. And it just didn’t occur to them. So as far as hard evidence that wearing normal everyday fashion, consumer fashion, can cause MCS, I haven’t seen that evidence yet, because of all of the messiness of the data, right that nobody’s really looked into this in a deep way.

I did talk to a lot of people who would point to who would say I am now I have MCS, and I have MCS, and it’s caused by them installing new carpet in my carpet place, or I talked to one person who she found out that her children had lead poisoning because they started reacting to clothing. So those are like very pinpointable things, right. Like, they there was like a precipitating event that was very clear. And then also in terms like people developed reactions to clothing after that.

But as far as developing it from your clothing, I I haven’t seen evidence yet doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It just means we’re not there in terms of the research. 

 

Aaron Goodman 17:57

Right. And in your book, you point to Claudia Miller’s research, as you say, and the and the stat that the number of people diagnosed with MCS increased 300% from 2006 to 2016. So just in a decade, and it’s hard to say how much toxic fashion is contributing to this spike, but would you say it, it’s likely part of the problem?

 

Alden Wicker 18:27

I would say there’s a good chance it’s part of the problem. I mean, fashion has gotten very, very chemically complex in the past 20 years, for a few reasons. One is that, since the late 90s, everything has been outsourced. And it’s now being made in countries with very lacks environmental and workplace standards. So there are there are chemicals that are banned for use, and sale in the United States, like chlordane, which is an extremely toxic pesticide. And that has been that has shown up on airline unit uniforms, for example, probably because it was it was sprayed in the warehouse, you know, where it was being kept or on the boat that it was being shipped over on. You know, they have, they might be using risk restricted as Oh dyes they might be using putting all these finishes that, you know, we wouldn’t accept that in the workplace or in our environment in the United States or especially Europe, but it’s perfectly fine over there. So that’s one reason. 

Another reason is that a lot of companies now can sell their products for a markup if they have some fancy branded performance aspect to them, right. So if they’re anti-wrinkle and easy care, if they’re water repellent, if they’re quick, dry, if they’re stain repellent. If they’re anti odor, all of these different performance chemicals um Whether they actually work is a little bit suspect. There is some recent research showing that stain proofing chemicals up with PFAS, which is that famously toxic class of chemicals that are were on nonstick pans that are in the water and a lot of different places, they actually don’t work that well for, for keeping stains off of your clothing, but if you can say somethings stain proof, you can patent it, you can give it a fancy name, and then you can sell it for more money than you could just the plain thing 

So finishes outsourcing. You know, all of those different things I think are making fashion more toxic, and, and also the rise of ultra-fast fashion. So incredibly cheap things shipped straight from the factory that you bought off of a Facebook, or an Instagram ad. Nobody is looking at that stuff. Nobody is checking to make sure that it’s safe. Nobody’s even opening the package between that factory in Asia and your front door to say like, this smells like chemicals. I wonder what’s in here. So that’s also really dangerous. So those are, that’s three ways that fashion has changed a lot in the last couple of decades, which I think could be contributing to this problem. 

 

Aaron Goodman 21:16

Yes, thank you. And you write that there are over 40,000 chemicals in use, and only a small number are regulated or understood. So it’s a really complicated issue to resolve. Yeah.

 

Alden Wicker 21:34

Yeah. And, you know, a lot of those chemicals, they’re not even that not only have they not been studied, There’s a lot of a lot of times when researchers start looking into chemicals, they find chemicals that they can see the structure of it with their, with these tests that they’ve developed. And they’re like, they’re looking through the literature. And they’re like, I don’t even I don’t even know what this chemical is like, there’s no name for it. I don’t see it anywhere, like, what is this chemical? So not only do we not not have we not tested them, they’re just throwing them out there, and not even telling us what they are saying like, hey, this chemical exists, and we’re using it. 

And I think the other thing I want to make sure that I don’t miss saying is that fashion, unlike any of the other consumer products, we buy cleaning products, food products, personal care products, beauty products, doesn’t come with a complete list of ingredients. So even if you know you’re allergic or you have a reaction to something, you you can’t just like you can’t go to the store like you can’t with a beauty product and say like, oh, you know, I can’t I can’t be exposed to formaldehyde. You just like you just have to kind of trust or go to a brand that you trust or go to a place with a good return policy and just and just hope that what you buy works for you.

 

Aaron Goodman 22:55

Yeah, I want to talk to ask you in a moment about some options people with MCS can use to find clothing that works for us. You know, you also write about that people with MCS react to chemicals in the environment and in clothing that people who don’t have the illness don’t react to or don’t yet react to. But that doesn’t mean the clothes are not toxic or safe. Right?

 

Alden Wicker 23:27

Yeah. There’s, you know, there’s some people who seem to be susceptible to more susceptible because of genetics or the environment that they were in as they grew up to some of these toxic chemicals. It doesn’t. People who don’t react, maybe the four out of five people who don’t react doesn’t mean they’re not doing other things to you in really insidious, slow moving ways, right. So you might not have a reaction to a carcinogen. And but still, it might be working on you in a way that will manifests in really devastating ways. Many years later, as well as endocrine disruptors, right? Just because you don’t have an acute reaction to an endocrine disruptor, which is a hormone-disrupting chemical doesn’t mean it’s going to it might start messing with your endocrine system in ways that can manifest all sorts of different ways in the long term infertility, thyroid disease, you know, endometriosis, like and other reproductive disorders. A lot of people especially women are suffering from sort of mysterious, chronic illnesses where they go to the doctor and the doctor, you know, gives them treatment, or doesn’t give them treatment and says, Oh, well, we don’t know where this came from. Well, a lot of these things are rising in the population. 

And same with cancer. We should be thinking about prevention about keeping us safe. Instead of just, you know, only caring about whether something will give us Cancer, right? Like, we want people to thrive. We want people to live their best life and not be disabled by things. But right now our medical system and our toxicology system says, Look, if it doesn’t kill you, it doesn’t matter. And so just because you’re not having an acute reaction doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be worried. 

 

Aaron Goodman 25:21

Do you think most people are aware of the hazards and chemical clothing? 

 

Alden Wicker 25:26

No, I don’t think they are. So I just got on TikTok today, finally. And I was just going through a lot of different content that people were posting around eczema and non-toxicity, like non-toxic swaps. And there is some good advice, there is some bad advice. But almost nobody was talking about fashion, people were talking about their nonstick pans, people were talking about, you know, using fragrance-free laundry detergent. Those are the those are great things. But a lot of the chemicals that are in those products that people are really concerned about are also in fashion. Like I said pee fast, it’s in nonstick pans. It is also in outdoor gear and quick-drying bathing suits. You know, people are worried about heavy metals like aluminum in there, in their deodorant, they should be worried about heavy metals in there, in their clothing. 

There was some test a couple of years back of Shein and other ultra-fast fashion brands in Canada, by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. And they found really high levels of lead in their, in their products. High levels of cadmium have been found in cheap costume jewelry from some department stores. So a lot of what people were worried about and other things are in fashion. But for some reason, I think because of the lack of ingredient list, I think, because people believe like, Oh, we’re not eating it or putting it on our skin so it doesn’t matter. It absolutely matters. And I am hoping to change this.

 

Aaron Goodman 27:03

You’re hoping to, you’re not taking this all on your own, though. So I want to talk about some examples of citizen groups who are pushing back in a moment, right? But you know, you are definitely making a major contribution. For folks who have MCS and live with a condition, you know, we know how challenging it can be to find clothes that we don’t react to that or say for us, it can be really, really challenging. And it can take a, it can take a long time. And it takes a lot of work to try and figure it out. Because it is really complicated. And as you say, it’s not obvious, it’s the ingredients, so to speak, the materials aren’t listed a lot of times it’s very challenging. 

And you cite Dr. Ann McCampbell, who’s a physician who has MCS in New Mexico, in the US who talks about people putting their clothes in pressure cookers and soaking with vinegar and milk, leaving them in the sun and the rain and, you know, hoping they’ll these clothes will become tolerable. And I think most people listening will have some experience or a lot of experience with that. We also have struggled going to thrift stores and buying second-hand clothing because they’re often loaded with toxic laundry detergents that don’t come out. So what can we do? What are some other any, What are some creative options for folks like us, aside from finding you mentioned finding distributors or companies that do work and any suggestions. 

 

Alden wicker 28:35

So this is probably 101 for your listeners, but trying to find natural fibers whenever possible.

There’s a variety of reasons why synthetic fibers can be cause reactions for people, they can have plasticizers in them like valet or BPA has been found recently in a lot of different places, brands, athletic stuff, polyester spandex stuff. There’s also a certain type of dye that’s used on polyester called disperse dye, that’s a known skin sensitizer. And additional research is coming out that’s showing it’s everywhere. And it can also shed off of our synthetic clothing into our house desks where you know, we can adjust it or you know, breathe it in or you know all of those different things. So avoid synthetics. That’s the first thing.

I think other things people can do is look for labels such as a gootecks, or blue sign, those are not perfect, but they’re getting better. And they show that a company has really invested in working closely with their manufacturing partners to ensure that they’re not using chemicals anywhere in the supply chain and also getting things tested at the end before they go on shelves. 

I mean just first of all like you should, people should only buy with cash from companies that have a chemical management policy at all, some brands don’t do anything. Some brands, you know, if you can’t find anything on a brand’s website about what they’re doing around this, it means they might not be doing anything. And unfortunately, this is something that is more of a problem for American brands and European brands. 

So another creative thing I would say is look for European brands that either are made in Europe or even just, you know, have their headquarters in Europe, because

they are just under much stricter regulations regarding what they can use in manufacturing and what they can put on the end product. So that;s another trick that I would use.

What else? Oh, there’s a few small brands that use cotton that is actually dye free. It’s this type of cotton that actually grows in these like pale pinks, and pale greens, and these really nice earthy tones. And so they come in these colours, so there’s no dye at all put anywhere on there. So that’s really cool. It’s called Fox Fiber. And people can find a lot of different lists on my website, ecocult.com, around different product categories that have the non toxic options in there as well. 

 

Aaron goodman 31:28

So thank you so much. And since you mentioned your website, eco cult. Do you want to say a little bit more about what it’s about and what resources are available there? 

 

Alden Wicker 31:40

Yeah, so EcoCult. It’s been around for a decade. And it started off as a sustainable lifestyle site, it has morphed into a sustainable fashion sight. And now because I’ve

realized that fashion toxicity is so under-covered and deserves some really reliable resources on this. It’s moving into being more about toxicity. So every single article now, it at least addresses briefly the toxicity of the product. So for example, today we have, we also we have things around outdoor furniture that’s non-toxic, right? Like, make sure you’re not getting, you know, waterproof to conventional outdoor furniture because it could have those PFAS chemicals in it. So yeah, we have shopping lists, we have deep dives. And if people have questions about things they can, they can email us and we’ll potentially look into it.

 

Aaron Goodman 32:38

Okay, great. Couple more questions, please. People who are from marginalized and racialized communities, disproportionately affected by toxic fashion from, you know, on the production side, and also as consumers?

 

Alden Wicker 32:57

I would say definitely from the production side. So I travelled to India, in the course of reporting this book, and I actually met a female garment worker who had just her run, she had scars on her arms, and she still had skin reactions on her legs, because she was working in a polyester garment factory sewing polyester textiles in this hot factory. And it was actually a factory that was supplying the domestic market, which means it had no controls whatsoever on toxicity. So that was, that was really hard to see, of course, people who work with this stuff every day breathing it in, it might be in their, the water as well, in their community. They’re disproportionately affected by this. 

However, what I found out in the course of my book is that once it gets to the United States, it actually doesn’t matter what your socioeconomic status is, right?  So as of right now, I mean, yes, if you are only buying ultra-fast fashion, you are at higher risk. So that is a problem. But I think it’s so under-covered that it hasn’t even occurred to higher income people yet to sort of add this to their list of like, ways that they are protecting their family more than people who don’t have resources are. So for example, the researchers I talked to at Duke and I don’t think this is in the book, but they said they did when they did a study of house dust and what’s in house dust, they went across racial and socio-economic lines and they didn’t find any difference in the amount of as azobenzene disperse dyes in various households. So everybody’s buying the same amount of polyester with the same amount of these skin-sensitizing or allergenic disperse dyes and then for now.

But there is a difference in the resources, people have to address this right. So it was a little bit difficult for me to speak to people who were non-white who had sort of pinpointed fashion as being the problem, because in order to do that, you have to have a lot of control over your environment and be able to start eliminating other potential factors, right. So you have to be the kind of person who has access to good medical care, which, you know, as you know, a lot of the doctors who will take a holistic viewpoint, don’t accept insurance, they take cash, you have to be able to live in an environment where you’re not also getting toxic fumes from a local highway or landfill or a factory. You need to be able to afford organic food and all of those non-toxic products. And then once you’ve gone through all of that, then you might arrive to the point where you say, Well, I’ve tried everything, and you might realize that it’s fashion. 

So I think there's a big difference there in terms of access and education and control over the environment when it comes to, to income levels and race in the United States.

 

Aaron Goodman36:25

And a lot of people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity because they’re disabled and can’t earn an income. Oftentimes, these challenges are very, you know, present for people, right? And if you don’t have an income, difficult to buy clothes that are more expensive. So sometimes we just have to buy the lowest cost options. And that’s probably not great.

Right?


Alden Wicker 36:53

Yeah, I mean, I, I really feel for people because, you know, natural fibres and natural building materials, unfortunately, are the more expensive choice today. And the more difficult choice and the you know, you can’t just buy and install linoleum flooring, it’s a lot easier to do that than to get hardwood flooring installed with, you know, a water-based finish. And it can be difficult to find non-toxic, certified non-toxic, natural fibre clothing, that is the same price, as you know, what you would get from Walmart, so, or what you would get from any big box department store,

 

Aaron Goodman 37:37

 Alden, any examples of citizens pushing back and demanding accountability from companies when it comes to toxic fashion?

 

Alden Wicker 37:47

Yeah, there are so toxic fashions. As I said, there’s not a lot of awareness right now. But there are a few. There are a few people who are on this. So “Toxic-Free Future” is one organization that covers a lot of different consumer products. And they’ve, you know, bought things in order to test for perfluorinated chemistry before, and sort of done these reports that have called out fashion brands for essentially lying about the fact that they are getting these things out when it’s still present. So Toxic-Free Futures is a good one. 

Another one is Center for Environmental Health. They’re located in California, which has very strong regulation around, you know, they say, Okay, well, you are legally allowed to sell some products with these banned chemicals, but you have to label them. And if you don’t label them, and someone finds them, you can get sued. So Center for Environmental Health has been targeting fashion products and fashion brands recently and getting them tested. And that does a lot of things. Because there have been many times there have been several instances where they’ve come to these settlements with a bunch of different brands. And they just say, Look, you just have to get this balades or lead or cadmium out of your products. And then they keep testing for them just to make to make sure that brands are actually doing it. So that’s another really good organization.

 

Aaron Goodman 39:21

Fantastic. And as we wrap up, I just want to ask you, do you have any hope for the future for companies cleaning up their acts? Do you think the government is going to step up and regulate the industry more? Do you think governments are going to require companies to produce more non toxic clothing? Is the answer to produce more locally? pay workers more? What do you think are some of the reasons any reasons for hope? Anything getting better? 

 

Alden Wicker 39:52

Yeah, I do have hope. I mean, Europe is way ahead of us and they’ve instituted a lot of regulations that actually do benefit us in the United States and California as well. The legislation I just mentioned, California is such as huge economy that nobody’s fashion brands or most fashion brands are not going to decide not to sell in California, they’re just going to clean up all their stuff for the rest of the market. New York State is also banning specifically PFAS, which is the waterproofing chemical from everyday apparel, as is California.

So there is And Europe is probably going to overhaul its, its make its chemical standards for textiles, specifically, even stronger in the next few years. So that’s really, really exciting. I think, in the United States. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen because we’re in such a polarized time right now. But I do think people are starting to understand that something is seriously broken with the way we’ve been regulated chemicals in this country. I mean, the Ohio derailment, train derailment, that chemical that was so toxic is the chemical in PVC, which is a lot of what vegan leather is made out of. So I think people are starting to wake up. And I’m hoping that we can, you know, this book is about fashion. It was my way in, it’s what I hope a lot of readers will be drawn to.

But in the end, it ended up being about the way we deal with chemicals overall in this country. And I think we’re really ready for an overhaul of the way we do things. And I’m hopeful that that is coming. And also a lot of fashion brands have improved in the past decade. They’re putting in place a restricted substance list. An organization, an industry organization, called ZDHC, has done a lot of really good work in cleaning up factories and what they can use abroad. So that’s getting better. 

I think it's going to feel like it’s getting worse before it gets better. Because as we have more awareness, there’s going to be more testing, you’re going to see it more in the news. But that is a good thing, because now we know what’s happening instead of being hidden from us. So I guess I would say I am I am hopeful.


Aaron Goodman 42:20

Oh, that’s a positive note to end on. Although it is a very complicated issue. Alden Thank you so much for taking time to speak with me and for sharing your expertise. I really appreciate it. 


Alden wicker 42:31

Yeah, thank you so much for having me. This has been great.


Aaron Goodman 42:35

That brings us to the end of this episode of the Chemical Sensitivity Podcast. Thank you very much to Alden Wicker for speaking with me. We release new episodes twice a month, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. The podcast is produced by me Aaron Goodman with assistance from Kasey Walstra. I’m grateful to listeners who support the podcast. If you’d like to make a monthly contribution or a one-time donation, please find links on the website chemicalsensitivitypodcast.org. Your support will help us continue making the podcast available and creating greater awareness of MCS. Thank you very much. The podcast belongs to the community. And the purpose is to advocate for all of us and your help really means a lot.

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Podcast intro
Alden Introduces herself and the book “To Dye For: How Toxic Fashion is Making Us Sick- and How We Can Fight Back.”
Alden discuss her knowledge about MCS before writing the boook
Bio-mechanisms related to MCS and toxic fashion
Alden talks about whether she has lived experience with MCS.
Link between fashion and MCS.
The risks of toxic fashion.
Clothing recommendations for people with MCS.
EcoCult. Alden's website.
Marginalized communities and MCS.
Communities pushing back against toxic fashion.
Hope for the future?
Podcast conclusion.