Tests show popular sports bra and athletic shirt brands contain unhealthy levels of the environmental toxin bisphenol A (BPA). kzenon / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Usually when a person dons workout attire, they are hoping to do something positive for their health.
That’s why new testing from the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) is so concerning. The group found that eight popular sports bra brands and six popular athletic shirt brands had unhealthy levels of the environmental toxin bisphenol A (BPA).
“Studies have shown that BPA can be absorbed through skin and end up in the bloodstream after handling receipt paper for seconds or a few minutes at a time,” CEH Illegal Toxic Threats Program Director Kaya Allan Sugerman said in a press release. “Sports bras and athletic shirts are worn for hours at a time, and you are meant to sweat in them, so it is concerning to be finding such high levels of BPA in our clothing.”
BPA is a hormone disruptor that mimics estrogen. Its main industrial use is in the manufacturing of polycarbonate plastics, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. People are especially likely to be exposed to it through the lining of cans and other food containers, but it has also been found in toys and flooring, according to CNN. It has been linked to various harmful health effects including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, asthma for young girls and even premature death. It is also very pervasive in the environment: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found it in 93 percent of tested urine samples.
“The problem with BPA is it can mimic hormones like estrogen and block other hormone receptors, altering the concentration of hormones in our bodies, and resulting in negative health effects,” CEH Science Director Dr. Jimena Díaz Leiva said in the press release. “Even low levels of exposure during pregnancy have been associated with a variety of health problems in offspring. These problems include abnormal development of the mammary glands and ovaries that can increase the likelihood of developing breast or ovarian cancer later in life. These effects occur even at low levels of exposure like those seen in people today.”
In its latest round of testing, the CEH tested popular sports bra and athletic shirt brands over the past six months. They found that bras from brands including Athleta, PINK, Asics, The North Face, Brooks, All in Motion, Nike and FILA as well as shirts from brands including The North Face, Brooks, Mizuno, Athleta, New Balance and Reebok all tested positive for the chemical and that wearing them could expose the customer to as much as 22 times the safety limit for BPA set by California law.
The law in question is Proposition 65, which went into effect in the state in 1986 and set a legal safe limit for BPA exposure via skin of three micrograms per day, according to CNN. CEH sent legal notices to all of the brands that tested positive on October 12, and the nonprofit will give the companies six months to collaborate on a solution before taking further action.
“At The North Face, our commitment to product safety is uncompromising as is our compliance with all local, state, and national laws regarding product safety,” the company said in a statement reported by Fast Company. ‘We are aware of the notice published by Center for Environmental Health and are investigating the allegations.”
The other companies listed did not respond to requests for comment from major news outlets.
This isn’t the first time that CEH has found BPA in clothing. It is typically found in polyester and spandex items including baby socks. However, the organization has pushed more than 90 companies to change how their clothes are made to avoid BPA and has met with some success. This builds on previous victories in other sectors.
“Our legal action has been successful in pushing entire industries to remove certain chemicals from products like children’s candy or toys,” CEH told CNN in a statement. “These cases not only serve to protect California consumers but also consumers throughout the country.”
This is because it is usually not feasible for a company to change its practices only for the California market.
Ultimately, CEH wants clothing makers to stop using BPA but it said people could protect themselves in the meantime by changing out of athletic gear as soon as they are done working out. The website Motherly also recommended buying bras and shirts made with natural fibers instead of polyester and washing polyester items in cold water then leaving them to drip dry.