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Organic Cotton: Why Bother?

February 8, 2008
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You eat organic food because you don’t want to put chemicals straight into your body, right? But why bother buying organic cotton clothes, sheets, or cotton balls?

Cotton is doused with more pesticides than any other single crop. Even though cotton fields cover only 2.4% of the world’s farmland, they account for 25% of the world’s insecticide use. And these chemicals aren’t exactly mild. Of the 46 pesticides used to grow cotton, 5 are classified as extremely hazardous, 8 as highly hazardous, and 20 as moderately hazardous.

While there are some concerns about putting chemical-laden fabric next to your skin or—ahem—in your body (tampons are made of cotton), buying organic cotton is much more of an environmental issue than a personal health issue.

Pesticides don’t exactly stay put, nor do they only kill what they’re supposed to kill. Heavy rains wash pesticides from the cotton fields into nearby streams. In 1995, contaminated runoff from cotton field killed more than 240,000 fish along a 15-mile section of an Alabama river. And in Corpus Christi, Texas more than 100 adult laughing gulls and a quarter of the breeding colony’s chicks died after eating insects contaminated with pesticides sprayed on cotton fields three miles away.

These pesticides poison people as well. A study by World Wildlife Fund estimates that the pesticides used on cotton poison 3 million people and kill 20,000 people each year. Some of these people come in direct contact with the chemicals as farm workers while others drink contaminated water, inhale sprayed mist, or eat animals that have been contaminated with pesticides.

So, why choose organic cotton? It’s grown without chemicals. ‘Nuff said. 

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