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New EU Restrictions of Hazardous Chemicals in Clothing and Textiles

30 April 2018

Wearing textiles everyday means a person’s skin is subject to prolonged exposure to the chemicals present in the products, some of which can be harmful. Although considerable progress has been made, the textile industry also has a historical reputation of using reactive, and sometimes problematic chemicals in its products and processes.

It is, therefore, not surprising that textiles have now been targeted by the European Commission (EC) as the first consumer article category to fast-track a great number of chemicals through restriction. This blog investigates the draft Regulation which has been approved by the EU Member States on the 26th April and will enter into force in 24 months’ time after the publication in the Official Journal of the EU; and its implications to apparel industry trading in the EU. 

REACH catches up with apparel

clothes on railThe systematic element of REACH Regulation ((EC) No 1907/2006) only covers substances as such, in mixtures, or intentionally released from ‘articles’. Clothing and footwear are considered to be ‘articles’ under REACH and as they are not trying to deliberately release the chemicals they include, have not been greatly affected by REACH so far. However, with more information available on substances and more and more substances heading to the candidate, authorization and restriction lists, the clothing and apparel industry will need to understand and monitor their regulatory obligations closely.

Article 33 of REACH, requires article suppliers to respond to requests confirming whether their product contains any substances of very high concern (SVHCs) in greater than 0.1% concentration, within 45 days.

Here we are going to discuss another potential obligation of consumer textile producers under REACH, namely the restriction - the missing ‘R’ of the REACH acronym1 - of certain carcinogenic, mutagenic or reproductive toxicants (CMRs) in their products.

What does the draft CMR Regulation propose?

The EC proposes to use article 68 (2) of REACH as a fast-track to restrict certain CMR category 1A and 1B substances used in textile consumer articles such as:

a) Clothing or related accessories,

b) Textiles other than clothing which, under normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions of use, come into contact with human skin to an extent similar to clothing,

c) Footwear

Examples to be considered under (b) include bed linen, pillow cases, towels, sleeping bags, upholstery. Examples of articles not included are rugs, curtains, table linen. There are some derogations related to formaldehyde2 for a period of time; for personal protective equipment and medical devices. The scope of articles has been refined since the original proposal, and the number of substances has been also reduced - the original proposal included 286 substances, which has been reduced to 33 entries, some of those, however, define groups rather than individual substances. The draft Regulation determines a specific maximum concentration limit for each substance or group of substances allowed to be present in textiles.

Reactions to the draft Regulation

The draft Regulation went through a public consultation between 8th February 2018 and 8th March 2018 and received a warmer welcome from industry than the original proposal, as the Commission has taken into consideration some of their previous suggestions. There were still some concerns raised, among others, about uncertainties of the scope, why inaccessible parts of an ‘article’ are not explicitly excluded, why only second-hand clothing is excluded and recycled and reused materials are not. NGOs on the other hand raised that only CMRs are considered, other type of hazardous substances, such as sensitizers or endocrine disrupters aren’t.  

However, the most significant concern is the availability of test methods for industry to comply and for authorities to enforce the maximum concentration limits, determined for each substances (or group of substances). Lack of harmonized, validated and internationally recognized test methods has been a great burden of the article-related obligations under REACH. As the fast-tracking will allow the Commission to increase the scope of substances to measure in articles quickly and significantly, the demand for analytical methods to keep up will be immense. Consumer textiles is only the first category of consumer articles the EC is planning to use article 68 (2) to fast-track restrictions, so other article categories will soon face similar questions. 

When approving the draft Regulation, Member States also endorsed Commission action to protect consumers' health against chemicals known to cause cancer and reproductive health problems, in a vote to ban the use of these hazardous chemicals in clothing, textiles and footwear.3

Anthesis' thoughts

To create a workable Regulation, it is crucial to set realistic and enforceable concentration limits, both for industry and for authorities, but it is also important for industry to keep looking for alternatives and eliminate hazardous substances where possible whether or not they are restricted via a regulation. Increased transparency and cooperation along the value chain will also be essential for textile manufacturers to understand better what chemicals are in their products and at what level. The existing industry initiations in the apparel sector to improve sustainability will also advance the transition toward less harmful chemicals.

As well as providing guidance and technical support on REACH, Anthesis is both a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and is actively supporting the implementation of ZDHC projects with clients. We are well positioned, therefore, on both the regulatory and voluntary requirements asked of the apparel and footwear industries.  

Look out for my colleague’s, Jessica Onyshko’s next blog, introducing how apparel industry is tackling sustainability issues and how much these focus on chemical risks. For any questions in teh meantime, please contact Pearl Nemeth on the form below. 

[1] REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals
[2] Formaldehyde is used in jackets and coats, and in upholstery, to confer structural and flame retardant properties respectively. Due to the lack of information on suitable alternatives, a less stringent concentration should apply, for a limited period, to formaldehyde in jackets, coats or upholstery in order to allow operators to adapt to the restriction
[3] http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/news_en.htm
 

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