The European Commission (EC) has published a regulation to ban the use of nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) in textile articles sold in all European Union member states.

According to the notice in the EU Official Journal, the amended Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation will come into force from 2 February 2016, and companies will then have five years to remove the chemicals from their products and supply chains.

This means that there should be no NPEs in any textile product placed on the market after 3 February 2021 "which can reasonably be expected to be washed in water during their normal lifecycle, in concentrations equal to or greater than 0,01 % by weight of that textile article or of each part of the textile article."

The term 'textile article' is taken to mean "any unfinished, semi-finished or finished product which is composed of at least 80 % textile fibres by weight, or any other product that contains a part which is composed of at least 80% textile fibres by weight, including products such as clothing, accessories, interior textiles, fibres, yarn, fabrics and knitted panels."

However, the restriction will not apply to second-hand textile articles or new textile articles produced without the use of NPE exclusively from recycled textiles.

The move comes after EU member states last year unanimously agreed on a ban of the chemical.

The wide use of NPE in the textile industry was brought to light by a Greenpeace International report, Dirty Laundry 2: Hung Out to Dry in 2011, which found toxic chemicals in waste water discharges from two textile processing facilities in China supplying global apparel firms.

It also pointed out a loophole in the EU's REACH chemical regulations. While NPE was banned in textile products within the EU, it did not ban the use of NPE in imported textile products.

NPEs are used as surfactants in textile production and subsequently break down to form toxic nonylphenol (NP). According to Greenpeace, nonylphenol is a persistent chemical with hormone-disrupting properties that builds up in the food chain and is hazardous even at very low levels.