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Textile EPMs and evolving fluorocarbon regulations

Features | October 25, 2021 | By:

Regulatory changes are ahead that could affect some textile end product manufacturers, particularly those who switched to shorter-chain C6 chemistries.

by Pamela Mills-Senn

Keeping abreast of regulations restricting the use of, or banning altogether, of certain chemicals considered carcinogenic can prove challenging for textile end product manufacturers, who are often several steps up the supply chain. This is an even bigger issue for those selling their products globally. Remaining informed is essential to avoiding potentially costly missteps or even more serious problems. 

The following Q & A on regulations affecting the use of fluorocarbons, also delves into the ban on C8 chemistries, and the potential ban on C6 chemistries. Anne Bonhoff, Ph.D., principal chemist, R&D and external science, corporate fellow, for UL Greenguard; and Ben Mead, managing director of Hohenstein Institute America, provide their insights. 

Headquartered in Northbrook, Ill., UL, which delivers testing, inspection, certification training and other services, offers the GREENGUARD certification program. Concerned with the chemical exposure resulting from various products used indoors—including textile-based products such as carpets, window treatments, upholstery and others—the certification applies to a range of industries and products.

Hohenstein Institute America is part of the Hohenstein Group based in Bönnigheim, Germany, which specializes in the testing, certification and research of textile products, and has developed OEKO-TEX®, a portfolio of standardized solutions and certifications enabling manufacturers to achieve greater sustainability in their products and processes. 

Fluorocarbon regulations impact U.S. businesses, as well as those trading in the European Union (EU). It will benefit textile EPMs to pay close attention to specifics within this larger picture. 

Q: What should end-product manufacturers know about the U.S. regulations concerning fluorocarbons in general? What about the ban on C8 and the possible ban of C6?

BONHOFF: To start the discussion about fluorocarbons, it is important to understand that perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl compounds (PFAS) are a large family of thousands of synthetic chemicals widely used in products like stain-repellant coatings, nonstick products and firefighting foams. Humans and wildlife can be exposed to PFAS through contaminated food or water or through the degradation of consumer goods like carpets or textiles treated with stain repellants.

From a regulatory perspective, most of the attention has been placed on the two most common types: perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), both long-chain PFAS with C8 chemistry. Many manufacturers switched to different versions/alternatives with only six carbons in the chain, C6 chemistry. However, evidence is starting to show that these C6 PFAS could be just as persistent and just as toxic as the ones they replace. Some of the C6 PFAS are now restricted or are being considered for restriction.

MEAD: Longer-chain chemistries, including C8-based chemistries, have faced legislative and industry pressure for some time. In cases where a C8 chemistry was used, some companies made an intentional decision to switch to shorter chain lengths as a temporary solution. If a company is in that situation, they should be increasing efforts to find alternatives because there is increasing pressure in the U.S. to move away from these shorter-chain alternatives.

Q: What is likely to happen within the U.S. concerning these chemicals? What about in the EU?

MEAD: There is increasing interest in legislation from the states, including advocacy from non-governmental groups, to legislate against PFAS substances as a class instead of taking a unique CAS (Chemical Abstract Service) number approach. At least one state has passed legislation for certain products and other states are considering similar legislation. 

In the EU, the legislation has not yet focused on the entire class but continues to actively expand the list of individual restricted substances and their prohibited use. The existing limit values in the EU are very strict and amount to a ban of certain compounds. An important aspect here is the ongoing effort to achieve standardization of testing methods for this inhomogeneous substance group.

BONHOFF: Authorities in Europe are developing plans that could phase out PFAS. In the U.S., several state-level bills are calling for a ban. Connecticut, Maine, New York, Vermont, Washington and Minnesota, as well as San Francisco, Calif., regulate PFAS in food contact materials and in articles like food packaging.

California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has proposed to list treatments containing PFAS for use on converted textiles or leathers, such as carpets, upholstery, clothing and shoes, as Priority Products under the Safer Consumer Products (SCP) regulations. And on July 1, 2021, California’s DTSC adopted carpets and rugs containing PFAS as Priority Products, based on finalized regulations.

On July 15, 2021, Maine passed law LD 1503, a groundbreaking law that will ban the use of toxic PFAS compounds in all products by 2030. However, products containing PFAS that, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, “are essential to health, safety or functioning of society and for which there are no reasonable alternatives,” are exempt from this law.

The Maine statute initially bans the sale of new carpets or fabric treatments that contain intentionally added PFAS as of January 1, 2023. Also, beginning on that date, manufacturers of any product for sale in Maine that contains intentionally added PFAS must notify the state and describe the purpose and amount of PFAS in the product.

By January 2030, the sale or distribution of products with intentionally added PFAS is prohibited unless the manufacturer can show there is no alternative.

Q: Are there any other countries poised to move towards banning C8 or C6?

MEAD: The EU and U.S. are taking the lead on this legislation at the moment.

Q: What are the labeling requirements concerning these chemicals?

BONHOFF: In November 2017, PFOS and PFOA were listed as potential developmental toxicants under California’s Proposition 65. The listing includes labeling requirements for manufacturers, distributors and retailers. The further regulation of PFAS is also under consideration.

Washington state has required the reporting of PFOS in children’s products since 2012. The 2017 Children’s Safe Products Act update added reporting of PFOA in children’s products starting in January 2019. In May 2021, there was also the release of the revised Washington State Draft Chemical Action Plan for PFAS.

MEAD: New legislation in Maine includes timelines for requiring companies to report intentional use of PFAS substances to the state but it does not appear to be a consumer labeling requirement. Substances such as PFOS and PFOA, which are included in California Prop 65, would require consumer warnings if consumers are exposed.

Pamela Mills-Senn is freelance writer based in Long Beach, Calif.

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