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EU Bans Imported Textiles Containing NPEs

It’s official: European Union officials have agreed to ban imported textiles that contain nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), citing an “unacceptable risk” to the environment.

Member states voted unanimously to extend existing restrictions to include the sale of any textiles in Europe that contain at least 0.01% mass of NPE, following suggestions made last year by scientists at the European Chemical Agency’s (ECHA) Committees for Risk Assessment (RAC) and Socio-Economic Analysis (SEAC).

The new ban is expected to come into effect in five years, after the European Commission adopts it in a month or so, and has allowed exemptions for secondhand or recycled textiles.

Once commonly found in household laundry detergents and generally used in textile processing as cleaning, dyeing and rinsing agents, NPEs are seen as potentially toxic by many activists, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The E.U. first forbade the chemicals’ use in European textile manufacturing more than a decade ago and has restricted the sale and use of fabrics containing more than 0.1% NPE since 2005, but many ecological advocates have said that’s not enough.

According to a 2013 study by the Danish Ministry of the Environment, brightly colored and Chinese-made clothing contained the highest concentration of NPEs but when consumers wash clothes manufactured with even a low amount of the chemicals, residue is released into local water supplies and can be toxic to aquatic species.

Regulations aside, phasing out the use and release of the chemicals is easier said than done: Textile and clothing companies have warned the ECHA that adapting their production processes could prove problematic, as NPE is abundant in the supply chain.