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. The draft regulation was approved by the EU Member States on the 26 April 2018 and published on 10 October 2018. The restrictions will apply from 01 November 2020. The final adopted regulation is available here.
This blog investigates the chemical restrictions in textiles and its implications to apparel industry trading in the EU.
REACH Catches up with Apparel
The 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 CMR Regulation Mean?
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.
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 regulation determines a specific maximum concentration limit for each substance or group of substances allowed to be present in textiles.
The restriction proposal for formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers, recently published by the European Chemicals Agency, will apply to “textiles other than clothing”. These will need to comply with the 0.124 mg/m3 emission limit. Find out more information about the formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers proposal. The consultation runs until 20 September 2019.
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 types of hazardous substances, such as sensitisers 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 harmonised, validated and internationally recognised 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 chemical restrictions in textiles, so other article categories might face similar questions.
When approving the draft regulation, member states also endorsed action by the Commission 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 on the REACH Chemical Restrictions in Textiles
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 better understand what chemicals are in their products and at what level. The existing industry initiatives improve sustainability in the apparel sector 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.
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