18 May 2018
European Commission Takes Further Action Against Hazardous Chemicals in Clothing, Textiles and Footwear
On 26 April 2018, the European Commission received backing from the EU’s REACH Committee to take further action against hazardous chemicals known to cause cancer and reproductive health problems.
In this connection, the Commission has proposed a measure to extend prohibitions against certain substances. Once the measure is implemented, it will be prohibited to place clothing and related articles, other textiles, and footwear containing the listed substances on the EU market, regardless of where they originate.
Hong Kong traders will be aware that, by means of the REACH Regulation and its Annex XVII in particular, the EU imposes stringent restrictions on hazardous chemicals in several commonly used consumer goods, including toys, clothing, footwear, leather products and articles made of plastic. The substances thus far restricted in articles under the REACH Regulation include – among several others – phthalates, azodyes, cadmium, nickel, mercury and lead.
The standard restriction procedure, which the EU applies in order to put such restrictions in place, requires the preparation of a detailed so-called Annex XV dossier by the European Chemicals Agency (commonly referred to as ECHA) or a Member State. Thereafter, public consultations must take place, resulting in opinions from two different ECHA committees, and eventually a decision by the European Commission.
However, there is a simplified procedure available to the European Commission, under Article 68(2) of the REACH Regulation. This concerns a substance classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction (CMR) of categories 1A or 1B on its own, or in a mixture or an article that may be used by consumers. CMR categories 1A and 1B are deemed to be the more severe CMR categories. In the case of such substances, the Commission may propose and adopt restrictions without the application of the standard procedure outlined above.
Hong Kong companies may recall that in October 2015 the Commission had already announced its intention to use the simplified restriction procedure to target specific categories of consumer articles, with the aim of restricting CMR substances in those articles. In this overall framework, textile articles and clothing were selected as a first ‘test-case’. This was due to the likelihood of prolonged or multiple short-term exposures of consumers to CMR substances that are potentially present in those articles.
At that time, the Commission had prepared preliminary lists of CMR substances and launched a public consultation.
The current proposal will amend Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation in order to provide greater protection against 33 CMR chemicals used in clothing, textiles and footwear. These products are believed likely to feature the prohibited chemicals either as residues from the production process or as additives which offer specific properties such as shrinkage-prevention or crease-resistance. Such chemicals may, moreover, present a greater risk to the consumer through skin contact, inhalation or ingestion of dust particles and textile fibres.
Concrete examples of articles intended to be covered include underwear, nightwear, swimwear, garments, scarves, ties, handkerchiefs, hats, gloves, socks and certain footwear, as well as tablemats, tablecloths, towels, bed linen and pillow cases. The substances (and/or their compounds) to be restricted include Cadmium, Chromium VI, Arsenic, Lead, Benzene, Formaldehyde, and certain phthalates.
Articles excluded from the proposed restriction comprise footwear, clothing or their parts and accessories made of real leather; footwear, clothing or their parts and accessories made of natural furs or hides; and toys. Carpets, rugs and other textile floor coverings for indoor use are also excluded, as are second-hand articles.
A large majority of the REACH Committee supported the proposal, which will now be scrutinised by the European Parliament and Council. Afterwards, it will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union and become applicable in the 24 months that follow. The texts of the proposal and its annex listing the restrictions, may be found by clicking here and here.