By Dave Johnson, Phylmar newsletter editor
On October 14, the European Commission (EU), made up of 27 member states/countries, published details of a new chemical strategy to control the production of hazardous chemicals and related pollution by progressively restricting or banning their use in consumer goods.
The rationale for “Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability Towards a Toxic-Free Environment” as stated in the document is twofold: 1 )”Chemicals are everywhere in our daily life… and exposure to these harmful substances is a threat to human health and the environment;” and 2) “The EU chemicals policy must evolve and respond more rapidly and effectively to the challenges posed by hazardous chemicals.”
The EU strategy goes on to state: “All chemicals must be used more safely and sustainably… promoting that chemicals having a chronic effect on human health and the environment… are minimized and substituted as far as possible and phasing out the most harmful ones for non-essential societal use, in particular in consumer products:.
This new EU chemical management strategy, with a history that dates back 20 years and includes the landmark 2007 REACH legislation (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals), reinforces the fact that, as the strategy states, “The EU already has one of the most comprehensive and protective regulatory frameworks for chemicals.”
To be sure, Europe is far ahead of the United States in regulating chemical exposures. Former OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels and Jordan Barab wrote in the April, 2020 issue of the American Journal of Public Health: “More than 90% of (OSHA’s) permissible exposure limits date to industry consensus standards set in the 1960s, and there are no permissible exposure limits for the vast majority of chemicals used in today’s workplace.”
REACH and the EU’s new chemicals policy impacts many U.S. businesses, especially global multinationals selling into EU countries, and their supply chains. In an October article, “New EU chemicals strategy – what it means for textiles?” by Phil Patterson, the author expresses thoughts shared by many U.S. businesses that must comply with EU regulations. “Sustainability isn’t well-defined, ‘towards’ implies starting something but allowing you to fail to get there, and ‘toxic-free environment’? Don’t get me started,” he writes.
There are fears a “toxic-free environment” means reductions of 99% of emissions, a move to plant-based chemistry, controversial animal testing of new chemicals, extremely burdensome new costs to develop safer replacement chemicals, and devastating consequences regarding chemicals restricted or banned in many products, including toys, furniture, cosmetics, medicine, detergents, clothing, footwear and agricultural goods.
One example: the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) recently concluded several rounds of public consultation with stakeholders on a restriction proposal for more than 1,000 allergenic substances found in textiles, leather goods, hide and fur articles sold to consumers containing skin-sensitizing substances.
Expanded restrictions or bans are also being considered for intentionally-added microplastics, a move ECHA’s director of risk management calls “far-reaching” and “ground-breaking.” Microplastics are a common ingredient in many everyday products. They also shed from textiles during normal use and of course washing/drying.
EU moves to improve chemical evaluations also might be expanded to include gender differences and the effect of exposure to multiple chemicals (the so-called cocktail effect). The EU is also looking at the environmental footprint of bringing chemicals to market – the amount of energy and water required.
Patterson in his article makes an important point aimed at U.S. businesses: Many of these EU moves are not “currently on many people’s radar.”
The EU sensitizer restrictions or bans on upwards of a thousand chemicals, and future restrictions on thousands of other substances over time if executed according to the new/updated chemicals strategy, are on the radar of The Apparel and Footwear International RSL (Restricted Substances list), Management Group, or AFIRM (www.afirm-group.com
AFIRM is a division of The Phylmar Group (www.phylmar.com), which consults, educates and informs Fortune 1000 companies to achieve the goal of making the environment, products, and workplaces more viable for years to come. The AFIRM Group’s mission is to reduce the use and impact of harmful substances in the apparel and footwear supply chain. Its members include global brands such as adidas, Amazon, Gap, Inc., Hugo Boss, Levi Strauss & Co, NIKE, PUMA and Under Armour.
AFIRM in August, 2020 and earlier in August, 2019 said in written comments to the European Commission that the scope of its new proposals “is so vast and sweeping in scale” that compliance would have “devastating consequences” for the apparel and footwear industry. Banning various dyes would be “devastating,” given black and navy colors on polyester and cellulose materials “would be nearly impossible to achieve.” Banning leather preservation agents would have a severe impact on the leather industry.
As Patterson writes, “Developing new chemistry is incredibly difficult.”
The EU is moving forward. On November 1, 2020, it put into place a restriction limiting exposure to 33 carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction chemicals used in everyday clothing, textiles and footwear. The restriction is based on the EU’s REACH legislation. The EU states, “The health and well-being of our citizens is of paramount importance, now more than ever.”
Now more than ever, in our increasingly interconnected global economy, U.S. businesses should follow AFIRM’s lead and become fully invested in understanding and providing input on aggressive and expansive international chemicals management. Policies such as the EU’s new strategy are likely to influence future U.S. regulatory efforts to manage harmful chemicals, since U.S. policies currently lag far behind and are widely viewed as inadequate.