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SAICM, NRDC examine addressing chemicals in textile industry

Jun '21
The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), a Geneva-based global policy framework hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme to foster sound management of chemicals, in partnership with US-based advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), has published a report and a policy brief on per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as a chemical class in the textile industry.

The publications examine the scientific, policy, and practical reasons for approaching PFAS as a class, Canada-based International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD) reported on its website dedicated to Sustainable Development Goals Knowledge Hub.

Many chemicals used in textile production have adverse health and environmental impacts. PFAS and other toxic chemicals cannot be removed by wastewater treatment plants. Hazardous flame retardants, including brominated and chlorinated organic compounds, are also used in textile production.

Many dyes contain heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, and mercury, while azo dyes, used to treat textiles, contain carcinogenic amines.

The cost to the textile industry of poor chemical management is estimated at €7 billion per year, indicated by the value opportunity of eliminating occupational illnesses by 2030, the documents said.

The report, titled ‘Engaging the textiles industry as a key sector in SAICM: A review of PFAS as a chemical class in the textile sector,’ notes the textile sector’s environmental significance and the scope of PFAS used within it. Its global value chain includes companies of all sizes, which provides lessons for capacity building and enabling conditions that can extend to other sectors.

Some industry initiatives have helped address the sound management of chemicals in the textiles sector, including the development of transparency standards, guidelines, and restricted substances lists. The report notes the opportunity to scale up actions and mainstream sound chemicals management across the entire value chain in the textiles sector.

The policy brief, titled ‘A review of PFAS as a Chemical Class in the Textiles Sector,’ identifies enabling conditions for advancing improved public health and environment protection in the textiles sector. It includes recommendations for government and the private sector in approaching PFAS as a class for production and use control purposes.

The brief recommends governments to eliminate non-essential PFAS production/uses and prohibit such exports to the developing world; promote research and development on safe alternatives for essential uses; review uses deemed essential to account for the development of alternatives; improve and expand global access to testing methods; facilitate data gathering, and international cooperation/capacity building; facilitate private sector initiatives through purchasing decisions and awareness raising; and strengthen collaboration between all actors in the textiles value chain.

The brief suggests the private sector to adopt PFAS elimination policy at the highest corporate levels; understand the supply chain and provide educational materials/training to suppliers to facilitate PFAS identification; inventory known and potential PFAS sources and uses; assess essentiality of PFAS uses and alternatives, and publicize results while protecting proprietary information; conduct research and development on safe alternatives for identified essential uses; improve and expand global access to testing methods; implement policy and monitor progress; and report policy implementation results transparently and confirm through a third-party audit.

Fibre2Fashion News Desk (DS)

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June 2021

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