The 28 countries that comprise the European Union have unanimously voted to expand an existing ban on a common chemical used in cleaning, dyeing and rinsing textiles. The EU banned the use of nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE) in textile manufacturing more than 10 years ago, but the latest move expands the prohibition to include clothing imported by member states.
The decision was based on reports that found the chemical enters water supplies during washing, where it disrupts hormones in fish and impacts their fertility and development. The new restriction will not apply to second-hand goods or recycled textiles because it is assumed these have already been washed several times and so will contain negligible amounts of NPE. However, a number of apparel and textile companies feel compliance with the new restriction will be difficult because NPE is present everywhere in the supply chain and has numerous uses.
NPE is used in textile manufacture as a cleaning, dyeing and rinsing agent. This toxic chemical remains in the garment, released once clothes are washed, breaking down to form toxic nonylphenol. Nonylphenol is a persistent chemical with hormone-disrupting properties that builds up in the food chain and is hazardous even at very low levels.