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European Commission study looks into allergy risks from textile chemicals

February 11, 2013
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The European Commission (EC) has started a comprehensive analysis of a possible link between chemicals used in textile products and allergic reactions in consumers. A study has been conducted by Dutch company RPS, which reviewed all scientific data and epidemiological information on the matter available so far.

While the results highlighted that there was a lack of available information on levels of chemicals in finished products and it was hard to assess the extent to which contact dermatitis was caused by textiles, the study proved that the condition could be caused by textile dyes, finish resins and other chemicals like flame retardants and biocides used in textile production.

In the report produced after the completion of its investigation, RPS stated that since the precise concentration of sensitizing chemicals remaining in finished textile products was unknown, the cause-and-effect relation between them and skin allergies could not be conclusively proved.

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However, based on their analysis, researchers proposed a three-category division of textile chemicals. The first one consists of the substances that are classified as sensitizers included in the classification and labeling inventory and are intended to remain on finished textiles. The second category includes substances with harmonized classification of sensitizer under CLP, which unintentionally remain in finished textiles, perhaps as in impurity or a formulation component. The last category consists of substances with harmonized classification of irritant under CLP and intended to remain in finished textiles.

In addition, the report suggested that three different kinds of regulatory and non-regulatory measures are implemented. First off, new information requirements for consumers should be introduced under existing legislation. Next, researchers proposed that industry voluntary action, such as code of conduct, is combined with various control procedures that oversee the presence of sensitizers. Last but not least, the report suggested a range of measures, such as promoting voluntary action among manufacturers, a detailed investigation into exposure and risk assessment, as well as derivation and harmonization of limit values for strong sensitizers used in production. All of these proposals were recommended to complement the existing regulatory framework and could be subject to further analysis and evaluation, if necessary, the report pointed out.

Researchers also highlighted a few limitations in their study. For example, technical textiles were not included in the study and the research did not cover allergic reactions directly caused by textile materials themselves, such as silk and wool. Instead, the analysis only looked into the chemical substances used in textile products in isolation and in mixture. The study did not include any risk assessment of the chemical substances investigated and did not look into occupational exposure to chemicals in workers or other supply chain representatives. The RPS research team also emphasized the fact that test situations in a laboratory environment were not necessarily identical to those in a real market situation and may not mimic the exact exposure of consumers to the chemical substances present in the finished textile products.

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