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Apparel and Footwear Industry’s Manufacturing Restricted Substances List Will Pose Supply Chain Challenges

The Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Group has released its Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL), identifying over 150 chemicals and chemical groups that are prohibited from being used in apparel and footwear above limits established by the list.  These chemicals include heavy metals, phthalates, volatile organic compounds, certain dyes, flame retardants, glycols, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and halogenated solvents.  The MRSL undoubtedly will pose supply chain challenges, adding to the ever-increasing supply chain pressure to ban the use of certain categories of chemicals in the production of consumer products.

In 2011, a group of apparel and footwear brands, including Adidas Group, Burberry, Nike, H&M and Levi Strauss & Co., jointly committed to reach “zero discharge of hazardous chemicals” across their products’ life cycle by 2020. In 2013, the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemical Group members published a Joint Roadmap outlining the steps needed to reach that goal; the development of a Manufacturing Restricted Substances List, just released, was identified as a critical first step.

The MRSL’s purpose is both to reduce environmental releases of hazardous chemicals as well as to reduce human exposure to those chemicals, during production and in the final product. According to the document, the MRSL “will assist brands, their supply chains and the broader industry to adopt a harmonised approach to the control of hazardous substances used to process textile and trim materials in apparel and footwear….ZDHC brands expect that material suppliers and factories will communicate with their chemical suppliers to ensure that the listed substances are not present in chemical formulations above established limits.” The MRSL’s purpose is both to reduce environmental releases of hazardous chemicals as well as to reduce human exposure to those chemicals, during production and in the final product.

For all the chemicals identified, intentional use in the raw materials and finished product is prohibited. However, the MRSL recognizes that raw materials may contain manufacturing impurities and thus establishes “Chemical Supplier Commercial Formulation Limits,” or concentration caps, for each identified chemical that cannot be exceeded.

These Chemical Supplier Commercial Formulation Limits are quite low, as low as 2 parts per million for perfluorooctane sulfonates and related substances, to 500 parts per million for certain volatile organic compounds. The challenge for the supply chain will be the verification of these limits and locating reliable sources of consistently compliant material.  Sourcing from overseas suppliers may be exceptionally challenging.  And, with technological advancements, what may “pass” today may not “pass” next year or five years from now, simply because more advanced testing methods and equipment are better able to detect and measure chemicals. Entities sourcing raw materials must be sure to stay ahead of such developments and continually work towards developing reliable and sufficiently sophisticated suppliers.

Ms. Grimaldi maintains a diverse environmental law practice focusing on chemical and product regulation and litigation defense. Her practice areas include Proposition 65, California's Safer Consumer Products Regulations, California's Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Act and the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. Ms. Grimaldi graduated from the University of California Hastings College of the Law magna cum laude and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Bacteriology from University of California, Davis. Prior to attending law school, she worked as a research assistant in laboratories at the University of California, San Francisco Cancer Research Institute and at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.