Bulk Commodity chemicals: the major overlooked hidden polluter

Excerpt: Commodity chemicals used in the textile industry are contaminated with potentially hazardous substances such as APEO's, phthalates, chlorobenzene, toluene and other restricted chemicals

Commodity chemicals used in the textile industry are contaminated with potentially hazardous substances such as APEO's, phthalates, chlorobenzene, toluene and other restricted chemicals – that routinely end up in wastewater. This was disclosed by Mr Ullhas Nimkar, Nimkartek in new study, which was commissioned by a leading global apparel brand. This study has shown that commonly used chemicals such as salts, soda ash, organic and inorganic acids, peroxide and caustic soda – which are often by-products of other industries – can be laced with potentially hazardous substances. Herebelow Mr Nimkar lays bare some the hitherto hidden facts as detailed in his study :

Commodity chemicals….

The main cause of concern being that up to 30 per cent of commodity chemicals used in the textile sector are recycled byproducts of other industries and commodities could represent up to 90 per cent of chemicals found in the textile effluent, although that figure could be far higher in certain regions. Our studies on these commodities indicate they can be contaminated with the likes of APEO's, phthalates, chlorobenzene, toluene and other restricted substances. Generally, commodity chemicals are assumed to be relatively clean – as they are generally screened for the presence of heavy metals. Nearly 100 per cent of commodity chemicals used in dyeing and finishing are discharged in wastewater since they are not needed on the fabric.

Need for greater focus….

These commodities are not covered by the 16 chemical 'groups of concern' identified by both Greenpeace (11 chemicals) and the ZDHC as priorities to phase out. Many of these chemicals used during wet processing are recycled by-products from other industries such as the petrochemicals, pulp and paper and the pharmaceuticals sectors which are sold by third-party traders. For example acetic acid which is used as a neutraliser is a by-product of Paracetamol synthesis and will contain impurities and remnants of this reaction, and thus are not virgin chemicals. They are also found to be cheap, low-grades often comimg with hazardous contaminants associated with their industry of origin.

Other areas of concern…

Further it has been found that no two batches of commodity chemicals are identical, and these chemicals are very low in product differentiation, with price being the major factor in purchasing decisions for the end users. However, the revelation that this new class of process chemistry is a cause of concern for global textile supply chains is being seen by some brands as a positive. It could solve the puzzle of why some contaminants such as APEO's appear regularly in textile wastewater effluent when they are not found in any inputs. It could also mean that initiatives start to look more closely at commodities instead of further investigating other source of wastewater contaminations such as the breakdown of dye molecules – which could be a red herring.

Although they are screened for the presence of heavy metals most commonly used commodities include Glaubers salt, peroxides, caustic soda and various acids are wrongly presumed to be relatively pure. Essentially, the commodity chemical segment is a high-volume, low-margin segment, where the chemicals are never tested for impurities

New Screening method……….

The good news for the industry is that as part of the testing project, Nimkartek has developed a new screening method to help textile mills identify commodity chemicals that are much safer to use. The new 'In-Screen' method is designed for use by the textile and footwear sectors to detect the presence of 16 MRSL priority chemical groups in all input chemicals, including commodity chemicals, before they enter the supply chain. This technique makes use of multiple analytical tools such as spectroscopy and chromatography. The method is robust, validated and tested for its reproducibility. The screening system is also said to be cost effective at just US$100 per chemical.

Another solution……….

Another solution would be to shift to the use of higher-grade, even virgin-grade commodity chemicals instead of using recycled by-products which in a way maybe not be too difficult in that the textile industry. The cost implications of course would be needed to be studied and also how this will impact the price of the final product.

In conclusion…

Despite the immediate concerns, Nimkar believes, this will be a very positive development for the industry as it will take them several steps ahead in their goal to achieve zero discharge of hazardous chemicals. The future of all the chemical based industries is through sustainable chemistry.

Mr. Nimkar has always been deeply involved with ecological aspects and chemical restrictions in Textile and leather industries and their regulations – right from the time the first Legislations started in Europe. NimkarTek Technical Services Pvt. Ltd. was then born in 2012 as his effort to translate this passion into a structured business model that will provide world-class services in the field of quality, performance, environment and sustainability to the entire consumer products supply chain. NimkarTek Laboratory is accepted and approved by the ZDHC Group as an indicator of Level 1 ZDHC MRSL Conformance in connection with the ZDHC Gateway – Chemical Module.