What FR Apparel Manufacturers Need to Know About the Lautenberg Act

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What FR Apparel Manufacturers Need to Know About the Lautenberg Act

By Nicholas Clark, CEO, Alexium International Group Limited - 10/31/2016
From the mid-1970s until recently, America’s main law governing chemical safety was the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Many critics alleged TSCA was fatally flawed, allowing tens of thousands of potentially dangerous chemicals to remain on the market without any safety review — and permitting companies to put hundreds of new chemicals on the market every year without any demonstration they were safe. This situation changed on June 22, 2016, when the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (LSCA) was signed into law. What are the implications of the law and how should the flame-retardant (FR) apparel industry respond?

Before getting into the specifics of the answer, some context is necessary. LCSA makes a number of significant changes to TSCA as a result of an increasingly apparent need for further evaluation of existing chemicals. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the new law includes requirements such as mandatory evaluation of existing chemicals, a new risk-based safety standard, and improved public transparency for chemical information. Obviously these changes apply across the chemical industry and will have some impact on apparel and textile applications. At this time, it is difficult to determine specific impacts since this law is still very new and being analyzed.

However, with regard to the general public, the goal is clear: LCSA is designed to protect both consumers’ health and the environment. Since the passing of TSCA years ago, the U.S. has seen a number of instances where the hazards for widely used chemical products were identified in hindsight and were rectified slowly. This new legislation will work to improve on this and provide the general public with greater confidence that the public and environmental safety are protected.

Given the great scrutiny that FR compounds have received over the past five years, it is to be expected that these compounds will be on the short list for EPA review in the years to come. As a result, the implications are likely to be felt industry-wide. Let’s look at this in a bit more detail.

Implications for FR manufacturers
The passage of LCSA will likely have a profound effect on some FR chemical developers as well as their customers — including the sector of the apparel industry that employs FR materials. In recent years, certain FR developers have made it a priority to focus on environmentally friendly chemical solutions. The goal is to provide the apparel and the entire textile industry with products that can provide a safer alternative to the FRs in question. Such FR developers may see themselves as a resource to the textile industry to transition away from these legacy FRs.

Given the fairly complicated and extensive changes that may result from LCSA, the effects on these manufacturers will likely be gradual as the government and industry fully grasp the scope of these changes. With that said, it is likely to inspire key changes that will affect FR developers, manufacturers and their customers. The stakes are high: FR apparel manufacturing, with a collective volume of 997 million square meters, accounted for 57.9 percent of the global industrial protective clothing market in 2015 — a market that is projected to grow in size to more than $14 billion by 2023, according to market research firm Global Market Insights.

Next steps for the FR apparel industry
What are the next steps? In a nutshell, FR apparel manufacturers that utilize FR chemistry should do the following:

Seek to do business with providers of specialty FR chemistries and that are safer for consumers and manufacturers. These suppliers can provide their customers with turn-key formulations that can be readily integrated into the customers’ manufacturing processes.

Be aware that some chemical products — and particularly FRs — may ultimately be removed from this market as their usage is restricted. And again, it is impossible to estimate the extent and range of these restrictions. While that may be unsettling for the industry, one fortunate change is that EPA actions will influence future state laws in some cases, thus making it easier for chemical providers and users to understand where and how these products can be used.

Research the economic consequences of the new legislation. Should the industry expect LCSA to increase the price of FRs due to greater restrictions on certain chemicals? Not in the near term, but in the long term, price increases are plausible. LCSA gives the EPA greater ability to require more extensive testing on chemical products, and ultimately this testing may increase the cost to develop new products. In some cases, apparel manufacturers may see price increases due to restricted use of legacy FRs that then must be replaced by newer, safer alternatives. While increased costs for safer alternatives are by no means the rule, sometimes they are.

Stay informed in a proactive way. Those in the industry should communicate with their suppliers to understand any changes or expected changes to their products.

Follow trade magazines and conferences. Any significant changes to textile chemical products due to LCSA should be gradual, and apparel manufacturers are likely to see where suppliers are diligently working to provide alternatives in anticipation of this.

The ultimate impact of the new legislation will be significant and wide-ranging, though all of us — including those in the apparel industry — will only really grasp the specifics over a period of time. While there will assuredly be some frustration (both inside and outside the apparel world) due to these changes, as a whole, these changes are expected to benefit the industry. It will direct those in the FR apparel industry toward safer alternatives where needed and provide them with greater assurance that what they produce is safe for their customers.

Nicholas Clark is CEO of Alexium International Group Limited, which holds proprietary patent applications for a process developed initially by the U.S. Department of Defense, which allows for the surface modification and attachment of nanoparticles or multiple chemical functional groups to surfaces or substrates to provide functions such as fire retardancy, waterproofing, oil proofing, and antimicrobial treatments. Alexium has a growing IP portfolio with more than 20 patents in nine countries and three patent applications pending.

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