Germany continues to lobby the EU for a ban on trichlorobenzene (TCB) and eight specific textile dyes (known as sensitising dispersive dyes), which are thought to cause allergies, and possibly cancer.

The Commission's Scientific Committee on Toxicity, Ecotoxicity and the Environment has recently delivered its findings on the German Health Ministry's request to ban, EU-wide, TCB and the sensitising dispersive dyes in textiles.

Germany has been pressing for stricter EU-wide rules regarding the marketing and use of these substances since 1997, when it notified the Commission of possible dangers linked to them.

A German textile working group, authorised by the Commission, was set up in 1998 to investigate the effects of TCB and the dispersive dyes. The investigation's conclusions were finally published last month.

The eight sensitising dispersive dyes (Disperse Blue 1, 35, 106 and 124, Disperse Yellow 3; Disperse Orange 3 and 37, and Disperse Red 1) are said to cause skin disorders such as allergies, contact dermatitis and possibly cancer, said the German Health Ministry.

The Committee investigated a report that was drawn up pursuant to the German Ministry's claims. The Committee came to the following main conclusions:
  • the report dealing with the German claims only dealt with possible sensitisation and cancer risks associated with the dyes, while it failed to deal with other kinds of toxicity;
  • the report was not far-reaching enough in its assessment of cancer risks: a conclusion that there was no significant risk covered only two of the dyes (Disperse Blue 1 and Disperse Yellow 3) and not the others;
  • the report failed to address the risks associated with oral ingestion of the dyes (for example ingestion caused by young children sucking and chewing dyed textiles). It is essential, according to the Committee, that this is considered;
  • the risks associated with sensitisation (which as a result may cause allergies) were poorly dealt with. Thus, while the report is possibly right in suggesting that the risk of skin sensitisation is likely to be low for textiles with dye fastness 4 or more, more tests need to be carried out before this is proven conclusively.

TCB is already regulated under a 1990 directive, but this only covers the European textile industry. Germany claims that TCB, a dyeing accelerator or "carrier" used to facilitate the dissolving process of dispersive dyes during the colouring process of textiles, should not be used in textiles any longer.

The Scientific Committee however points out that the risks to consumers coming into contact with textiles containing TCB are low.

No decision on the future of TCB or the other dyes is likely to happen soon, as further investigation by the Commission is necessary.