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NGOs Criticize European Commission Ban on CMR Substances in Textiles

A proposal by European Union officials to restrict nearly 300 substances classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction (CMR) has been slammed by several non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Last November, the European Commission said it had collaborated with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and EU member states to compile a list that it would use to enforce a possible ban on CMR substances in a range of consumer goods.

The commission proposed adding the list—spanning classified dyes and carcinogenic amines, petroleum and coal stream substances, and others—as a specific appendix to Annex XVII to REACH, a European regulation concerning chemicals and their safe use. As outlined in Article 68(2) of the regulation, the commission is set to fast-track the restriction in textiles and apparel in two phases.

But several NGOs, including the European Consumer Organization (BEUC), ANEC (European Association for the Coordination of Consumer Representation in Standardization) and Euratex, have criticized the idea for two reasons: there are too many materials under consideration for the proposed restriction to be fast-tracked; the scope of substances is not wide enough.

At a recent meeting of Competent Authorities for REACH and CLP (CARACAL), an expert group that advises the European Commission and ECHA on questions related to the regulation, the first phase of the ban was revealed to be limited to items containing at least 80 percent of textile fibers by weight and which may come into direct contact with the skin. These items include apparel, footwear and bedding. Meanwhile, buttons and zippers that rarely, if ever, come into contact with the skin will be excluded. The same goes for footwear made from real leather.

Additional CMRs and consumers goods, including accessories, upholstery and floor coverings, could be considered in the second phase.

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Sylvia Maurer, head of sustainability and safety at BEUC, told Chemical Watch that the updated proposal will offer people less protection than the original plan promised and that rare skin contact should not be a reason to exclude certain product groups.

BEUC and its sister organization, ANEC, have voiced their concerns about the commission’s decision to focus only on cancer-causing, mutagenic and repretoxic chemicals. “BEUC’s members have carried out comparative product tests to show there is a much wider range of worrying chemicals present in our clothing, such as sensitizers (causing allergies) or endocrine disruptors. The commission needs to restrict these kinds of chemicals, too,” the organization said earlier this year.

Similarly, the International Chemical Secretariat (or ChemSec) said that from the get-go the restriction should apply to all CMR substances, which are or could be used in textile manufacturing. Failure to do so could result in companies shifting to use of non-listed CMRs.

The commission said it will launch a public consultation on the potential restriction of CMRs in textiles before the REACH committee discusses the draft amendment of Annex XVII.