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Article related to: People and perspectives
Chemicals and clothing
The ‘Detox' campaign launched by Greenpeace in 2011 has drawn people's attention to the chemicals present in everyday fashion. The campaign mobilised hundreds of thousands of people worldwide to challenge clothing brands to eliminate releases of hazardous chemicals from their supply chains and products. Textile chemicals are also regulated under REACH and some of them are controlled by REACH risk management processes. What kind of preventive measures are already in place in Europe to decrease the exposure to hazardous chemicals from clothing? What is the ‘Detox' fashion campaign about? ECHA Newsletter finds out.
According to Greenpeace's Kevin Stairs, the primary concern behind their Detox campaign is the increasing body burden of hazardous chemicals building up in the environment and the human body. "The campaign is about reducing water pollution and detoxing the fashion industry through scientific analysis, public engagement, and engaging in corporate dialogue to achieve the phase out of all hazardous substances throughout the supply chain," Mr Stairs says.
The environmental NGO hopes to secure commitments from name brand companies to phase out all hazardous substances by 2020 and join a roadmap for achieving this objective. "In late 2011, we kicked off the campaign with Puma, Adidas and Nike making the phase out commitments and joining the roadmap. Throughout 2012, they were followed by other brands, including H&M, C&A, Zara, Levis, Benetton, and recently Victoria's Secret," Mr Stairs explains. Greenpeace says the campaign has created public awareness of hazardous chemicals in our daily products. "In addition, it has initiated a significant discussion within the industry sector on their chemical problem, extending beyond the committed companies," Mr Stairs mentions.
As part of the campaign, Greenpeace published a report in November 2012 presenting the results of an investigation of hazardous chemical residues in clothing made by 20 global fashion brands. The chemicals found included high levels of toxic phthalates and cancer causing amines from azodyes. Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), which can break down to form a toxic and hormone-disrupting substance when released into the environment, were found in trace levels in clothing items from every brand tested. According to Greenpeace, the use of these chemicals in manufacturing results in water pollution that affects millions of people around the world. The Greenpeace report did not assess whether the amounts of hazardous chemicals found in the sample clothes pose a health hazard to the consumer.
Greenpeace: REACH instrumental and necessary
When asked about the role of REACH in decreasing hazardous chemicals used in the fashion industry, Kevin Stairs is convinced: "REACH is essential as a legislative framework for driving the principle of substitution and creating a worldwide green chemistry dynamic." As tools, he mentions the Candidate and Authorisation Lists and restrictions. "REACH should achieve two key objectives with respect to decreasing substances of very high concern (SVHCs) in the fashion industry: phase out SVHCs through substitution within industry in the EU; and phase out SVHCs within industry producing outside of the EU but exporting products into the EU," he concludes.
What is REACH doing?
The EU chemicals legislation already restricts the use of certain chemicals in textile production. For example, azodyes have been restricted in textile and leather articles since 2003, first under Council Directive 76/769/EEC. "When Annex XVII of REACH came into force, azodyes were transferred to the REACH restriction list," says Lisa Anfält from ECHA. Azodyes are a group of synthetic dyestuffs based on nitrogen that are used in the textile industry. Other substances that can be used in fashion and textiles but are restricted under REACH are PFOS, nickel and certain brominated flame retardants.
In addition, France's proposal to restrict dimethylfumarate (DMFu) - used to protect articles such as furniture, clothes and shoes from mould – was the first to go through the REACH restriction process. "This restriction under REACH, which entered into force in June 2012, replaced a temporary ban. It prohibits articles containing DMFu from being placed on the EU market," explains Ms Anfält. Articles containing DMFu may cause severe skin problems.
The use of nonylphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NP/NPE) in textile production in the EU has been restricted since 2004. "To add to that, Sweden has submitted a restriction proposal to ECHA concerning the use of NP/NPE in articles, because textiles imported from outside the EU can still contain the substances. This proposal is still being checked here at ECHA," says Lisa Anfält. Nonylphenol was also recently included in the Candidate List of substances of very high concern for authorisation. They are surfactants that are used in the production, cleaning and rinsing of textiles. Clothes carrying the EU and Nordic Swan eco-labels may not contain the substance.
Another restriction currently under consideration and submitted by Denmark concerns hexavalent chromium in leather. "ECHA's Risk Assessment Committee has already adopted its opinion concluding that there is a risk for allergy from hexavalent chromium in leather articles. The Committee for Socio-economic Analysis (SEAC) has also agreed on a draft opinion," says Ms Anfält. SEAC will take its final opinion by 15 March.
The European Commission will then take the final decision on whether to introduce this restriction into the REACH Regulation.
Phthalates on REACH Authorisation LIst
Very commonly and widely used phthalates are included in the REACH Authorisation List. "Phthalates may be used in the textile sector as plasticisers, for example in printed or coated textiles," Ms Anfält explains. Inclusion in the Authorisation List means that the substances cannot be used in the EU from 2015, unless the specific use has been authorised. ECHA receives the applications for authorisation. The permission is given by the European Commission, following advice from ECHA's committees. Phthalates are reported to affect reproductivity.
REACH and the textile sector
The textile and leather sector has two areas of responsibility in REACH. The industry is a downstream user of a variety of chemical preparations that are used in the production of textiles and is, therefore, dependent on chemical suppliers. Although in the role of downstream user it has no registration obligation under REACH, textile companies have the duty to communicate up and down their supply chain: firstly, to let the chemical manufacturer know how they use the chemical in order for the manufacturer to include their use in its REACH registration; and secondly, to communicate the conditions of safe use down to its own supply chain.
As for textile and leather products, these are defined as articles under the REACH Regulation. If they contain substances of very high concern (SVHCs) or restricted substances above the threshold limits, the manufacturers and importers have legal obligations under REACH. If the Candidate List substance is present in the article above a concentration of 0.1% weight by weight, and in quantities totalling over one tonne per year, the producers and importers of articles have to notify ECHA. However, there are also derogations, for example, if the substance has already been registered for the use in question.
Companies have to notify ECHA no later than six months after the inclusion of the substance on the Candidate List. They can submit their notifications using either a webform or IUCLID. The information to be provided includes the tonnage and the use of the substance in the article, for example if it is used as a flame retardant or a softener, and a description of the type of article and how it is used.
In addition, under Article 33 of REACH, European consumers have the right to ask whether consumer articles contain substances of very high concern. Upon the request from a consumer, suppliers of articles containing SVHCs on the Candidate List must provide the consumer with sufficient information to allow the safe use of the article (including the name of the SVHC). The information should be provided free of charge within 45 days.
Text by Hanna-Kaisa Torkkeli
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