The European Commission (EC) has moved to restrict the use of four phthalates–substances known to have toxic effects on human reproductive health–in consumer products such as coated fabrics and sport equipment.
These come on top of 33 hazardous substances in clothing, footwear and other textile articles the EC restricted in October. The restriction decision was adopted by amending the EU’s REACH regulation that has already significantly reduced exposure to harmful chemicals over the last 10 years.
The Commission said it constantly evaluates how to enhance protection of consumers, workers and the environment. The EC said in its notice that substances including the four phthalates can be present in plasticized materials in a variety of everyday products.
Consumers can be exposed to phthalates through oral or skin exposure or by breathing dust particles with such substances. The new ruling complements existing restrictions on three phthalates in toys and other childcare articles. The restriction follows the scientific and technical recommendations of the European Chemicals Agency. It will come into effect as of June 2020.
The chemicals come under the carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction (CMR) category, and are known to cause cancer and reproductive health problems. The substances include formaldehyde, heavy metals and benzenes, which can sometimes be used as an ingredient in textile coatings or through the production process.
A recent survey of 32 major companies from across the textile and leather supply chain, found most in agreement that there is a case for removing hazardous chemicals and that the benefits of implementing a manufacturing restricted substance list (MRSL) outweigh the costs.
This opinion was especially strong among companies that had already adopted an MRSL in collaboration with ZDHC, (zero discharge of hazardous chemicals). In the survey and resultant report, conducted with PwC, a number of respondents suggest that costs and benefits relating to sustainable chemicals management are not being monitored in their organizations. They said quantification would require significant effort involving many departments of their companies.
ZDHC noted that the use of chemicals in the fashion industry’s supply chain has a significant impact on the environment. The fashion industry, with an estimated value of $1.3 trillion and employing more than 300 million people along the value chain, is fragmented, with many different process steps and stakeholders involved in creating a fashion item. Each of these steps is associated with an external impact on the environment and by extension on society, the report noted.