New EU regulations that came into force at the beginning of this month require clothing manufacturers and importers to identify and quantify the chemicals used in their products. A series of registration deadlines is due to roll out over the next 15 years, but as Keith Nuthall explains, companies only have until 1 December 2008 to complete the pre-registration process.

Clothing manufacturers and importers will have to take care they are complying with the European Union's chemical control system REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), which came into force on 1 June.

Companies in the sector acquired responsibilities as the producers and importers of "articles", which are defined in REACH as something that has chemicals within it, but whose character is defined by the way it is made, rather than its chemical content.

Obviously apparel, which contains dyes and other chemical preparations, comes into this category.

As such, Article 7 of the regulation applies. Manufacturers and importers must make sure that certain chemical substances in their products are registered with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).

This involves providing information abut its classification, identity and use, in a format as laid down within Annex VI of the regulation, and such a registration is mandatory under two sets of circumstances:

• The substance is present in those articles in quantities totalling over 1 tonne per producer or importer per year;
• And "is intended to be released under normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions of use".

A registration is also required where:

• A chemical substance is deemed a potential risk to health and the environment (being listed by the agency in a 'candidate list' as set out in Article 57 of the regulation);
• And it makes up 0.1% of more by weight of an article, as well as weighing more than 1 tonne given the amount of a particular article imported or made.

If the substance has already been registered - say by a supplier - then no further action is required. But if not, then a manufacturer or importer must register the substance.

So, if a clothing article by design - say - emits a scratch-and-sniff smell, a manufacturer and importer will have to find out what chemical has been used, and maybe register it.

But also unplanned "foreseeable" releases spark registrations, for instance if clothing habitually leaches a dye through washing.

Quantify and assess chemicals
All this means clothing manufacturers and importers will have to identify and quantify chemicals used in their products, assess how much could be released and, if necessary, check whether it had been registered under REACH, and if not - get it registered.

Which is a fair amount of work. But there is potentially more.

Under Article 33 of REACH, where such a substance of potential concern makes up 0.1% of more by weight of an article, the importer, manufacturer or even retailer "shall provide the recipient of the article with sufficient information, available to the supplier, to allow safe use of the article including, as a minimum, the name of that substance."

This requirement to inform customers about potentially hazardous chemicals kicks in irrespective of the overall volume of the chemical present in a product over one year.

Fortunately, all of this work does not have to be done right away. Indeed the chemical agency only came into existence on 1 June, and will have to be set up over the next 12 months.

Rolling deadlines
Under REACH, a series of registration deadlines will roll out over the next 15 years. As regards registration, the speed at this work must be completed varies according to their importance or toxicity.

For existing substances deemed by the agency to be carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction, as well as substances produced or imported by an applicant in volumes exceeding 1,000 tonnes a year, the deadline is 1 December 2010. 

For those produced or imported in volumes exceeding 100 tonnes annually, it is 1 June 2013. And for smaller volume substances exceeding one tonne annually, it is 1 June 2018.

However preparation for this registration needs to be completed in most cases by 1 December 2008, which is the deadline for the so-called pre-registration process.

This involves the agency being given basic information about the product which will be registered, such as a definition of the substance, how much is produced or imported (roughly), and some contact details. So calculations about what chemicals are in play REACH-wise must be done by that date.

Also, for new substances, however, the rule is simple: if registration is required from now on, and there is no registration - sales or use in the EU of products containing them are banned.

Special authorisation procedure
Another key date is 1 June 2009, when the second pillar of REACH, its special authorisation procedure saying how chemical substances deemed particularly hazardous can or cannot be used comes into force.

This is when the ECHA makes its recommendation for substances which must be subject to a rigorous screening process detailed in the REACH regulation's Title VII, from Article 55 onwards.

The agency is charged with refreshing this list at least every two years from this date, and it supposed to include chemicals it is really worried about in its 2009 announcement.

These are far from being the only steps that must be taken by clothing producers or importers under REACH, but they are the key ones, at least in its earlier days.

By the time we get to the last current mandated deadline, on 1 June 2022, when the agency must prepare draft decisions on proposals for tests suggested within registrations received by June 2018, the aim is that the EU's use of chemicals will have been carefully and comprehensively documented, scrutinised and made safe.

For guidance and a copy of the regulation:
REACH in brief
The new European law on chemicals
Official Journal of the European Union