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Engaging the textiles industry as a key sector in SAICM: a review of PFAS as a chemical class in the textile sector

The report examines the class approach for PFAS as it applies to the textile sector, which covers a wide variety of consumer products and connects two important issues covered in the SAICM context. The textile sector is an appropriate choice given the environmental significance of the sector and the scope of PFAS used within it. Both the quantity of PFAS in use and the variety of uses make this sector a priority for action. Furthermore, the nature of the sector—with a long and global value chain that includes companies of all sizes—can provide significant lessons for capacity building and enabling conditions, which can extend to other sectors as well.

Many of the chemicals used in textile production are known to have adverse health and environmental impacts. Hazardous chemicals found in effluents from textile processing facilities include some known to cause cancer and disrupt hormonal systems in humans and animals. Toxic chemicals, such as alkylphenols and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are particularly problematic, as they cannot be removed by wastewater treatment plants. Flame retardants, including brominated and chlorinated organic compounds, are another particularly hazardous class of chemicals used in the production of some textiles. Many dyes contain heavy metals—such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and chromium (VI)—known to be highly toxic due to their irreversible bioaccumulative effects, while azo dyes contain carcinogenic amines.

Unsound practices and poor wastewater management impact not only the health of textile workers but also communities living near facilities, consumers of textile products, waste collectors and secondary processers, and the environment. The cost to the textile industry of poor chemical management, as indicated by the value opportunity of eliminating occupational illnesses by 2030, is estimated at €7 billion per year.

A number of industry initiatives have made some headway in addressing the sound management of chemicals in the textiles sector, including by developing transparency standards, guidelines, and restricted substances lists. Nevertheless, more needs to be done and there is an opportunity to scale up actions and mainstream sound management of chemicals across all value chain actors in the textiles sector.