Uniform Testing Update

Dear Delta Flight Attendants,

Earlier this year, we requested samples of Delta uniform garments in response to your reports of reactions to the Lands End fabrics, ranging from rashes to hair loss, since the uniform rollout in May 2018. Late last year, Delta formally announced that its “toxicology study” concluded that the uniforms are safe and are not causing health concerns. However, we continued to hear otherwise.

We sincerely thank those of you who responded to our request for unworn, still-in-the-package uniform garments. In February 2020, AFA sent a selection of these fabrics to three labs. In March 2020, we sent additional fabrics to two labs. We now have the final results to share with you. 

1. The apron (style no. 492808)

Results: A lab found a toxic fluorinated chemical called PFOA, plus an assortment of other stain retardants, in fabric samples from four aprons.

Significance: These findings support what Delta reported in November 2019 when it noted that the apron contained PFOA. Delta said the apron was an “optional garment” and would be “removed from the collection.” What Delta didn’t say is that the presence of PFOA in the apron matters because PFOA is immunotoxic and there is evidence that it may be carcinogenic in humans. The levels of the PFOA and the other stain retardants are lower than the maximum allowed levels in the Oeko-Tex 100 fabric standard, but these chemicals should not be present in clothes. AFA is not aware of an alternative apron option.

What you should do: Stop wearing the apron and dispose of it.

2. The women’s red outerwear coat (style no. 481797)

Results: A lab found the toxic fluorinated chemical called PFOA (described above) and a few other stain retardants in a sample of the red women’s outerwear coat. Another lab found hexavalent chromium in that red fabric. Also, the total chromium content of the red fabric (which is usually dominated by trivalent chromium) was almost 10 times more than what the H&M (the clothing store) fabric standard would allow.

Significance: PFOA is immunotoxic and may be carcinogenic to humans. Hexavalent chromium is an irritant, an allergen, and a carcinogen. We do not know what “dose” of PFOA and hexavalent chromium is hazardous, but these are toxic chemicals and should not be present in clothes. Also, trivalent chromium is an irritant and the content in the coat fabric sample is very high.

What you should do: Stop wearing the red coat and dispose of it.

3. The “IFS executive” dress (style no. 481873)

Results: Fabric samples from two “IFS executive” dresses contained hexavalent chromium, albeit at low levels. Also, the buttons contained nickel. Fabric samples from the v-neck dress and the color block dress did not contain hexavalent chromium.

Significance: Hexavalent chromium is a carcinogen, allergen, and irritant. Nickel is an irritant and an allergen. We do not know what “dose” of either of these chemicals is hazardous, but these are toxic chemicals and should not be present in clothes.

What you should do: Stop wearing the IFS executive dress and dispose of it. Wear one of the two alternative dress options (v-neck or color block) instead.

4. The women’s wool-blend suiting pants (plus size) (style no. 481916)

Result: A lab reported that fabric samples from two pairs of women’s plus-size wool-blend suiting pants contained “total chromium” (not hexavalent chromium) at levels slightly above the maximum allowed by the H&M fabric standard. Also, a sample of the lining fabric contained a small amount of hexavalent chromium.

Significance: Chromium (other than the hexavalent form) is an irritant. Hexavalent chromium is an irritant, allergen, and carcinogen. We do not know what “dose” of either of these chemicals is hazardous, but these are toxic chemicals and should not be present in clothes. The fabric description on the label of the regular and petite size women’s pants matches the fabric description for the plus-size style, but we don’t know for certain if the fabric in those other garments is sourced from the same place.

What you should do: If you think you are reacting to the wool-blend pants, stop wearing them and switch to the synthetic-blend version (style no. 496907).

5. The women’s and men’s “thistle-pink” shirts (women’s style nos. 482208, 509801; men’s style nos. 509808, 482192)

Results: Both the women’s and men’s “treated” shirts contained formaldehyde.

Significance: The formaldehyde content of both types of shirts were within allowed limits, but the presence of formaldehyde could still elicit a reaction if you are either allergic to it or have sensitive skin. Also, formaldehyde is carcinogenic.

What you should do: Some formaldehyde content in cotton or cotton-blend shirts is not uncommon, so wearing an alternative shirt may or may not solve the problem. However, pay attention to whether you experience irritant or allergic symptoms when wearing the shirts. If so, you may be reacting to formaldehyde. We also tested one of the “untreated” women’s shirts (style no. 514878). The collar and cuffs interfacing contained some formaldehyde but the actual fabric didn’t, so switching to the “untreated” shirt would be another good option for men and women.

6. The women’s wool-blend suiting vest (tall) (style no. 481919)

Result: The lining fabric in the wool-blend women’s suiting vest (tall) failed the Oeko-Tex standard for color-fastness.

Significance: We do not have information on the toxicity of the dye in the lining fabric because there are thousands of dyes used in fabric production and only a small subset can be tested for.

What you should do: The wool blend suiting vest is likely not a required or necessary garment. It would be prudent to have the vest relined if it is an important garment to you.

In solidarity, 

Judith Anderson
AFA Industrial Hygienist

Register for tomorrow's Town Hall Call to hear more from Judith >

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Limitations of chemical testing data on uniform fabrics

It is important to understand that this data does not tell the whole story about your garments. There are thousands upon thousands of chemicals added to fabrics to impart certain properties such as being resistant to stains, fire, and wrinkles, or to add color, sheen, and durability. The data described in this newsletter only addresses a subset of them.

Some chemicals added to clothes may be perfectly safe. Some chemicals added to clothes are irritants, and some are allergens, carcinogens, immunotoxic, or some combination thereof. In addition to chemicals that are added on purpose, there are chemicals which make their way into clothes accidentally such as contaminated wash water during fabric production.

Some chemicals may be acceptable at low levels but if quality control/oversight at a mill is lacking, then the level of a given chemical may exceed safety standards. The complexity of chemical mixtures in some clothes can create a combination of chemicals which elicits a reaction.

Fabric standards (which help us to interpret testing data) have only been published for a small subset of the chemicals added to clothes. What does this mean? Even if limited garment testing has not identified a specific chemical that would explain specific symptoms, if a garment generates a reaction, AFA recommends that you seek an alternative option.

WATCH AFA-CWA Video: Securing Safe Flight Attendant Uniforms