Chemical risk management in textile manufacturing

Chemical risk management in textile manufacturing

6:33 AM, 25th June 2018
Chemical risk management in textile manufacturing

By Prasad Pant

The Need For Chemical Management

When we enter a store to buy a garment, the things that immediately grab our attention are its color, style, texture, material, fit and price. We do not bother to check if the garment contains any colors or chemicals or materials that can be harmful to our health or the environment. Nor do we wonder whether the conditions in which the garment has been made have been safe to workers and the environment.

The textile manufacturing process uses hundreds of chemicals and colorants from the fiber manufacture/cultivation stage right through spinning, weaving, knitting, processing, garment cut & sew to transportation and retail. Some of these chemicals are fixed on the fabric or garment but can leach out on use, while those that are not fixed during the production process, are discharged from the production facility and enter the environment (river bodies/ soil) through the effluent and sludge. You may be surprised to know that more than 800 substances used in textile and leather production have been identified to be either harmful to human health or to the environment.

The table below lists the major chemical groups used in production and their harmful effects:

Chemical Group

Usage in textile production

Harmful effects

Alkyl phenol Ethoxylates (APEOs)

Wetting, Washing, Emulsification

Aquatic toxicity, Endocrine Disruption

Allergenic Disperse dyes

Dyeing of polyester

Causes skin allergies

Carcinogenic amines

Dyeing of cotton, silk, wool

Can cause bladder cancer

Carcinogenic Dyes

Dyeing of cotton, wool

Can cause cancer


Resin finish, dye-fixing agents, binders in printing

Suspected carcinogen, skin & respiratory sensitizer


Plastisol prints

Endocrine disruptor, impact on nervous and immune system, mutagenic

Cadmium, Lead, Nickel

Dyes, pigments

Effect on kidney, nephrotoxic


Preservatives, anti- mould, dry- cleaning

Can cause cancer, skin sensitization


Carriers, Solvents

Carcinogenic, Ozone depletion

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Spot cleaning, degreasing, printing

Eye damage and Respiratory sensitization

Per-fluorinated Compounds (PFCs)

Oil and water repellent finishes, Stain release finishes

Cause liver cancer, developmental & reproductive toxicity

 How To Manage Chemical Risks

In the light of global developments such as the ZDHC Programme, legislation such as REACH and requirements by Suppliers to global apparel Brands & Retailers on chemical restrictions, chemical manufacturers must initiate actions to ensure that hazardous chemical substances are eliminated from their commercial formulations.

The ZDHC Programme – which is an industry collaboration of 24 Signatory Brands, 47 Value Chain Associates and 15 Associates to implement sustainable chemistry and environmental best practices in the textile and leather supply chain – has published a Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) that has become the industry standard on restrictions in input chemicals used in a textile or leather manufacturing facility. The MRSL lists all substances that are not to be used intentionally in commercial chemical formulations, while allowing for limit values for unintentional contaminations.

Chemical manufacturers can register on the ZDHC Chemical Gateway and upload their products and ZDHC approved certifications to communicate conformity of their products with the ZDHC MRSL. The Chemical Gateway is a database of MRSL -conformant chemicals that will be accessed by Suppliers of ZDHC Signatory Brands to make informed decisions when purchasing chemicals for their production processes. Existing certifications have been approved by ZDHC and graded into Levels (from 0- 3) based upon their merits and resultant degrees of confidence of compliance. The ‘entry level 0’ is only a self- declaration from the manufacturer, while Level 1 pertains to certifications that confirm Product-Level conformity through testing or other forms of evaluation.

Level 2 and 3 of the ‘pyramid’ point to increased confidence of MRSL conformance by including Product Stewardship, Quality Management Systems and Audits of the manufacturing site. Certifications such as GOTS, EcoPassport, GreenScreen, ToxFMD, NimkarTek Detox Lab Test Report, NFL and Scivera Lens have been approved by ZDHC as meeting the MRSL conformance (Level 1) norms. BLC-Chem MAP is approved for Level 1 and 3, Control Union Certifications at Level 2 and 3, while bluesign is approved for Level 3.

 After uploading their products, a chemical manufacturer can download a ‘CHEMCHECK’ Report, which is a ZDHC MRSL Conformity Certificate. It is an assurance to customers that the product has been verified to the ZDHC MRSL Conformance Standard. The CHEMCHECK Report contains the Product Summary, along with a description of the ZDHC MRSL Conformance Level and lists the product certifications and an SDS summary. It also gives details about the manufacturer and its location. The CHEMCHECK Report thus becomes an easy tool for a chemical manufacturer to communicate ZDHC MRSL conformance.

In this way, Suppliers purchasing these chemicals are assured of reduction in the use of hazardous substances in their manufacturing process.

Textile dye houses and garment laundries can access the Gateway- Chemical Module and search for MRSL conformant chemical formulations. They can also check if the chemicals in their current inventory are listed on the Gateway as well as the Confidence Level of each chemical. The idea is to motivate these manufacturing facilities to include higher levels of MRSL conformant chemicals in their inventory. In this way, the risks of harmful substances being used in their input chemicals is greatly reduced and will lead to a cleaner production in terms of final product, wastewater and sludge discharge.

Author: Prasad Pant is Director, South Asia at ZDHC Foundation.

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