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Europe Adopts New Restrictions for 33 Chemicals Used in Textiles

The European Union (EU) has adopted restrictions on the use of 33 hazardous substances in clothing, footwear and other textile articles based on recommendations by the European Chemicals Agency and “following broad consultations with stakeholders,” the European Commission (EC), its executive arm, announced earlier this month.

The measures are designed to protect the health of European citizens by limiting their exposure to CMR chemicals—which is to say, substances classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic for reproduction—that may be “particularly harmful” when in frequent contact with human skin, the EC wrote in a statement.

The EC originally had considered 286 substances, which textile-trade groups such as the European Apparel and Textile Federation, Independent Retail Europe and the International Wool Textile Organisation balked against in 2016, calling the expansive scope of the proposal deeply concerning” and “likely to have a negative economic impact.”

Now much whittled down, the new rules have been incorporated into REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals), which Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the EC’s internal market and industry commissioner recently hailed the “most advanced and comprehensive chemical legislation in the world.”

“Many other jurisdictions have followed the EU’s lead in regulating chemicals,” she said at a commemoration of the legislation’s 10-year anniversary in March. “EU industry now makes chemicals safer for citizens and the environment.”

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Affected substances include certain lead and arsenic compounds, none of which can exceed 1 milligram per kilogram after their extraction; benzene, which has been capped at 5 mg/kg; formaldehyde (75 mg/kg); dimethylformamide (3,000 mg/kg) and phthalates such as diisopentylphthalate and di-n-pentyl phthalate (both 1,000 mg/kg).

Such chemicals are present in clothing and footwear either as artifacts from the production process or because they have been added intentionally to provide specific properties—to prevent shrinkage, say, or to make fabric wrinkle resistant, the EC explained.

“Consumers can be exposed to these hazardous substances through skin contact, inhalation or unintentional ingestion of dust released from the textile fibers,” it noted. “Small children are also at risk due to a possible oral exposure.”

Non-European businesses that market chemicals to the EU are also affected by REACH regulations. The new restrictions set maximum concentration limits for the use of CMR substances in clothing and textiles and prohibit products exceeding these limits from entering the EU market, regardless of origin of production.

The restrictions become enforceable 24 months after they’re published in the EU’s official journal, sometime in November.