Chemicals and Pesticides


Chemical use & Pesticides – 

Cotton uses 22.5% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of all pesticides, on 2.5% of agricultural land. Chlorpyrifos, used in West African cotton, causes brain and foetal damage, impotence and sterility.

Chemicals are used to dye and bleach fabric – and then to soften it and create finishing effects. These chemicals affect the environment where they are used, seeping into water and land, as well as the health and safety of the people working with them.

The most pioneering fashion businesses have chosen to reduce the toxic pesticides and chemicals used to make their clothes, through sourcing to organic standards, banning or phasing out the use of certain chemicals in their production processes.

More companies need to take a lead and follow suit. Consumers can encourage this by supporting businesses which have clear policies and which have taken steps to ban toxic chemicals from their supply chains.

The purpose of pesticides and insecticides is to kill, repel or inhibit the growth of living organisms by damaging the essential biological processes that maintain life. The problem is that the pesticides affect not only the pest species but also the well-being of adults and children. (WHO)

In some areas, the cost of chemicals is now reaching 60% of farmers’ production costs.

Between 1 and 3% of agricultural workers worldwide suffer from acute pesticide poisoning with at least 1 million requiring hospitalisation each year, according to a report prepared jointly for the FAO, UNEP and WHO. These figures equate to between 25 million and 77 million agricultural workers worldwide. Some of the symptoms of pesticide poisoning include headaches, vomiting, tremors, lack of coordination, difficulty breathing or respiratory depression, loss of consciousness, seizures and death.

Studies have been undertaken that have shown that countries producing cotton, such as USA, India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Brazil, Australia, Greece and West Africa, have detected pesticides in the water stream that are applied to cotton. This is concerning for developing countries where drinking water is rarely monitored and treated.

Following a report in 2004 scientists discovered that the pesticides that are applied to cotton during the production phase can be detected in cotton clothing in chemical residues that affect the wearer. (

Some dyes, from a group called azo-dyes, have been proven to release cancer-causing substances, and have recently been banned by a European Union law. Until very recently, these chemicals were widely used.

Finally, some chemicals such as formaldehyde, which is a skin irritant and has been linked to cancer, are restricted, but still allowed.

My Views – 

  • Pesticides may cause acute and delayed health effects in workers who are exposed. Pesticide exposure can cause a variety of adverse health effects, ranging from simple irritation of the skin and eyes to more severe effects such as affecting the nervous system, mimicking hormones causing reproductive problems, and also causing cancer.
  • Organic production is the best way for the risks of using chemicals and pesticides to be tackled.
  • The cost of using chemicals and pesticides is usually 60% of farmers production costs which would mean than using organic production would be better for the workers and the communities.

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