04/25/2017

Chemicals in Textiles: Risks to Human Health and the Environment

Published: 2004

The Swedish Chemicals Agency (Kemikalieinspektionen) was assigned by the Swedish government to compile available and relevant information about the risks to human health and the environment from hazardous substances in textile articles. The intention of this report is to serve as a base for further work on developing risk reduction measures for hazardous substances in textiles at the EU level. The study includes three main parts: a. An overview of textile consumption in the EU and Sweden. b. A screening study with the aim to identify hazardous substances/groups of substances posing a potential risk to human health and the environment. c. A literature study of data on exposures and effects related to hazardous substances in textiles.

Increasing consumption of textile articles and use of chemicals The consumption of textile articles has increased rapidly in the EU during the last decades. Textile materials are produced in large quantities and are included in a broad variety of widely used consumer articles. Chapter 3 presents an overview of consumption of textile materials and articles in the EU and Sweden.

Increasing production and consumption of textile articles also mean an increased use of chemicals and raw materials. Large quantities of chemical substances are used in the production of textiles, from processing of fibres and raw materials to the final touch of the finished article.

Substances used in the production of textiles can remain in the final article as minor contaminant amounts, and articles may also contain substances formed by degradation. Other substances are intentionally added to textile articles in order to provide a specified function, such as colour or easy-care. Substances in textile materials may be released from articles and expose humans and the environment. Textile articles are used in a way that both consumers the environment can be exposed to chemicals released from the articles. An overview is presented in Chapter 4.

Information is needed in the production- and supply chains

Although large quantities of substances are included in textile production, there is no comprehensive overview of hazardous substances that may be present in textile articles placed on the market.

To assess the chemical risks related to the use of textile articles it is necessary to have information about the identity of the substances and their hazardous properties. Access to information on the contents of hazardous substances in textile materials and articles is important for the manufacturers, importers and suppliers along the production and supply chains.

The requirement in the REACH Regulation, Article 33 (Section 2.1.1) concerning the duty on suppliers to provide information on hazardous substances in articles is limited to Substances of Very High Concern that are listed on the Candidate list. Thus, this duty to provide information does not included e.g. dermal allergens. 7

The majority, approximately 80%, of the textile articles consumed in the EU are imported from a non-EU country, and it is also common to import semi-finished textile materials while the article is finally manufactured and labelled in the EU. The textile supply chains are often long and complex with a global span and important information is drastically decreasing in the many steps from producer to consumer. The flow of chemical information in the supply chains is generally not adequate. The knowledge about chemical contents in textile articles should be made more readily available by increasing and improving the information exchange along the supply chain.

One step towards improved information exchange along the supply chain is the international initiatives in the SAICM programme Chemicals in Products (Section 2.3). The legal information requirement on suppliers of substances in articles needs to be further developed.

Identifying chemical substances related to textile articles

The study presented in Chapter 6 was performed to identify substances with a reported use in textile production. The REACH registration (Section 2.1.1) is one source of knowledge since data for hazardous properties and recommended use for substances should be included in the registration. Further data was also collected from several databases.

The focus of the screening study was to identify substances of potential risk to human health and the environment. Approximately 3 500 substances were identified as relevant for use in textile. However, the actual use and the presence in the final textile articles have not been verified for all these substances. It should be noted that this identification approach managed to cover only a part of all the substances that may be found in textile articles.

Of the identified substances about 2 000 substances are not yet registered under REACH. Due to the volume limit for registration and the limited obligations to register substances present in imported articles, the REACH registration data is insufficient for risk assessment of many substances used in textiles. In some cases REACH registration data for risk assessments was not easily accessible for evaluations of specific uses, and for about one third of the identified substances the REACH registrations was the only source indicating textile use.

Improved quality of data and increased availability in the REACH registration would facilitate and improve the decision-making regarding risk reduction measures for hazardous substances in textiles.

The focus of this study is functional chemicals as they are expected to be present in textiles at relatively high concentrations. However, auxiliary chemicals and unintended degradation products may also be present in the textiles and cause harmful effects on human health and the environment, but these types of substances are not covered by screening study due to the limitations.

Substances of potential risk to human health

Approximately ten percent of the identified 2 400 textile-related substances are considered to be of potential risk to human health. These substances are all functional chemicals, which are expected to be present in the final article at relatively high concentrations, and include azo dyes of direct and acid application type and fragrance. There may also be other types of substances, such as auxiliary chemicals and impurities/degradation products, that can be of potential risk to the human health. The concentration of such substances are generally lower 8 in the final textile article than the concentration of functional chemicals and therefore they were excluded from the scope of the screening study.

The identified azo dyes of direct application type have properties that are associated with an increased risk of cancer and developmental effects, whereas the identified azo dyes of acid application type and fragrances have properties that are associated with an increased risk of allergy.

The relevance of azo dyes was also confirmed by studies in the open literature. Azo dyes of direct application type are mainly used in cotton textile while azo dyes of acid application type are mainly used in polyamide. Since both cotton and polyamide are common materials on the EU market there is a potential for large-scale human exposure to azo dyes of direct and acid application type. These dyes are loosely bound to textile fibres and in particular small children sucking or chewing on textiles could be highly exposed. The dyes also have properties indicating that they are persistent in the environment and may accumulate in the aquatic food chain, which could lead to an indirect exposure of humans through dietary intake. For small children, ingestion of indoor dust, which to a large part consists of textile fibres, may also be an important exposure route to textile-related substances for small children, especially since textiles constitute a large part of the surface in the indoor environment.

The presence of hazardous substances in textiles, including azo dyes of direct and acid application type, should be further investigated.

Carcinogenic, reprotoxic and/or sensitising substances (allergens) should be avoided in articles with direct and prolonged skin contact. Although the methods we used to identify substances of potential risk involve many assumptions and limitations, the results are consistent and give reasons for further investigations, especially of azo dyes of direct and acid application type but also fragrances.

Substances that may cause severe health effects should be avoided in articles with direct and prolonged skin contact.

The overall scientific literature points out disperse dyes as the main cause of textile-related allergic skin reactions and disperse dyes were also identified as substances of concern in our screening study. In addition to the disperse dyes, we identified acid dyes as a group of sensitising substances of potential risk to human health that previously have not been associated with textile-allergy to any great extent. It is thus likely that the disperse dyes is not the cause of all reported cases of allergic skin reactions, for example certain acid dyes could also cause cases of allergic skin reactions.

Based on the findings of our screening study more than 200 allergenic textile-related substances, as for example acid-type dyes, could contribute substantially to allergic skin reactions. The testing of dermal allergy to sensitising dye substances used in textiles should be developed. Substances of potential risk to the environment Approximately five percent of the identified 2 400 textile-related substances are considered to be of potential risk to the environment. These chemicals are all functional chemicals which are expected to be present in the final article at relatively high concentrations. The evaluation of the function chemical substances clearly pointed out azo dyes of direct and acid application type as substance groups of potential risk to the environment. The 2 400 substances also include auxiliary chemicals or impurities.

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