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Swedish Chemicals Agency Finds Hexavalent Chromium in Leather Products

On 13 November 2019, the Swedish Chemicals Agency (SCA) published the results of an investigation into hazardous substances contained in common leather products. The investigation covered a total of 70 products over five categories: gloves, watchstraps, bracelets, clogs and mobile phone covers. Eight products (11%) were found to contain prohibited substances.

Four mobile covers, two pairs of gloves and one watchstrap contained hexavalent chromium in quantities exceeding permissible levels under the EU’s REACH Regulation. An additional nine products contained hexavalent chromium below threshold levels, meaning the marketing and sale of these products is still legal. One mobile cover contained prohibited levels of lead.

Interestingly, none of the products investigated contained any substance on the REACH Regulation’s Candidate List in amounts exceeding 0.1%. This means that the obligation to notify the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), and the reporting obligation (informing downstream recipients of the existence of any such substances) would not have been triggered.

The investigation was specifically targeted at looking into the prevalence of hexavalent chromium in leather-based products. The products were chosen based on notifications submitted by Member State agencies in other EU and EEA countries to the Rapid Alert System for dangerous non-food products, “Rapex” or “Safety Gate”, identifying them as containing hexavalent chromium. Based on these notifications, the SCA investigated the products that were being marketed on the Swedish market.

In 2015 the SCA had already conducted an investigation into leather clothes and footwear sold on the Swedish market. 192 product samples were investigated, out of which 106 were shoes. Only one of the samples, an exercise glove, contained prohibited substances in levels exceeding the permissible thresholds (short-chained chlorinated paraffins and an azo dye). For this reason, the SCA in the present investigation decided to exclude shoes and focus on other leather products.

Products from a total of twenty companies active on the Swedish market were investigated. All companies who were found to be selling products containing substances above permissible threshold levels were contacted and permitted to respond to the SCA’s findings. Two of the companies who had supplied products with hexavalent chromium submitted results from previous analyses. These analyses had not shown impermissibly high levels of the substance. When one of the companies conducted a new test on the same article that the SCA had investigated, the company found traces of hexavalent chromium. The discrepancy with the earlier analyses is likely due to the fact that the transformation of trivalent chromium into hexavalent chromium may be delayed if the product is stored in a cool place.

Several of the products investigated had been sold to other parts of the EU and the SCA would be notifying other agencies of their findings via Safety Gate and the Information and Communication System for market Surveillance (ICSMS), another reporting system for EU market surveillance authorities, customs authorities and the European Commission.

The report notes that hexavalent chromium derives from the leather tanning process. Proper tanning with triple chromium should normally not give rise to hexavalent chromium, neither during the manufacturing process nor in the final product. The SCA recommends that companies have clear chemical requirements which are adhered to by its suppliers, as well as continuous sampling and analysis of their products before they reach the market, to ensure that the suppliers live up to their commitments.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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