Effortlessly clean up your town’s polluted air with your favorite pair of jeans – that is what is trying to be done. If this sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. “CatClo,” a liquid laundry additive with titanium dioxide nanoparticles, is the collaborative work of the University of Sheffield and the London College of Fashion. All your clothes would need is one cycle with this additive—because the nanoparticles very stubbornly stick to the fabrics—to remove pollutants like nitrogen oxide in the air and oxidize them in the fabric.
The University of Sheffield website firmly says that the pollutants treated thusly in the presence of daylight do not produce other pollution hazards and are “harmlessly” removed when the clothes return to the wash—“if they haven’t already been dissipated harmlessly in sweat.”
“Harmlessly” may be a stretch, if not a lie. Titanium dioxide dust has been linked by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a possible carcinogen. Because it would be in nanoparticle form attached to fabric, titanium dioxide may be able to breach the blood-brain barrier, especially if absorbed through skin via sustained wear or sweat. One also wonders what possibly carcinogenic nanoparticles may be floating around the laundry room and the closet.
The clothing industry has already seen the introduction of antimicrobial clothes, wherein antimicrobial compounds are added to kill germs and odors instead of the safer (and simpler) solution of soap and water. In 2011, the Swedish Chemicals Agency (Kemi) published their findings that triclosan and triclocarban—known disruptors of fetal development and thyroid and heart function—were removed from clothing in as little as ten washes. These compounds are toxic to aquatic creatures as well as the water itself, and are being found in increasing amounts in human urine, breast milk, and umbilical cord blood.
Long-Term Solutions Needed
“Nitrogen oxides produced by road vehicle exhausts are a major source of ground-level air pollution in towns and cities, aggravating asthma and other respiratory diseases. Asthma currently affects one in 12 adults and one in 11 children in the UK.”
While the universities in question may have good intentions—air pollution is a dire problem—wearing possibly carcinogenic air purifiers on our skin without long-term testing may not be a healthy choice. Instead, we can join as a community to critically inquire and solve collective problems with long-term health and the environment in mind.