Hazard Limitations in Textiles by EU Rules
Certain substances classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction (CMR) are present in clothing and related accessories, either as impurities from the production process or as compositional additions to provide specific desirable properties. Consumers can be exposed to these chemicals in textiles and footwear through direct contact with the skin or by means of inhalation.
Many dangerous chemicals that have been used in textiles and footwear for years are banned or restricted in the European Union (EU). These chemicals include certain azo colours, certain dye substances, chromium VI, dimethylfumarate, certain phthalates, and many more.
Since November of 2020, the REACH Regulation applied a restriction on the use of 33 CMR substances in EU-made and imported clothing, textiles such as bed linen and upholstery, and footwear.1 The REACH regulation is the main legislation of the EU in terms of the regulation of chemical substances. In one part, it sets the maximum concentration thresholds for substances present in products; if retailers and companies do not comply with these thresholds, not only are these industry players given penalties but their associated products are not to be commercialized in the EU.
In matter of textiles, the REACH Regulation sets thresholds for substances such as cadmium, chromium, arsenic, lead, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and certain phthalates.2 The Regulation forbids these substances in clothing as well as footwear, accessories and textiles in furniture. The ban of these substances is necessary to ensure textile safety for the protection of environmental and human health. These substances are used in different phases of the textile production lifecycle, such as during dyeing and also during manufacturing and integration to provide specific properties to the products.
Admittedly, it is regrettable that these restrictions do not apply to animal-based leather. Indeed, the production of animal-based leather is extremely pollutant due to the numerous toxic chemicals used in its treatment and tanning procedures.3 Additionally, thresholds are not applied for chemicals used in decorative attachments, medical devices or second-hand goods, which limits the impact of the REACH Regulation. In particular, vulnerable groups such as children and pregnant women are most at risk for severe health impacts due to these chemical-based products.
The European Commission had first considered 286 substances and then drastically reduced its ambition to 33 substances.4 Undoubtedly, concerns are raised on the enforcement of such measures. These ongoing matters prove this to be a much more complicated discipline, especially since many textile consumer products are imported into the European Union.
Nevertheless, the REACH Regulation is a very first step to recognize the importance of hazard and chemical-free clothing.
1. REACH Regulation 1907/2006 of the European Union, December 18th 2006 and Commission Regulation 2018/1513 adding CMR substances to the Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation, October 10th 2018: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32018R1513
2. “Substances, we don’t want in our clothes”, ECHA: https://chemicalsinourlife.echa.europa.eu/substances-we-dont-want-in-our-clothes
3. For more information, please refer to: https://sustainfashion.info/materials-plastic/leather/
4. “EU restriction on 33 CMRs in textiles now applicable”, Chemical Watch, November 3rd 2020: https://chemicalwatch.com/174185/eu-restriction-on-33-cmrs-in-textiles-now-applicable