FR Clothing Treatment Concerns
By Ralph Armstrong
There have been several questions asked about the chemicals used in FR clothing that gives it its FR properties. Concerns have been raised by our members about the potential for adverse reactions to the treatment as well as if this product contains Pentabrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs). I have contacted Westex the manufacture of the fabric Indura UltraSoft that is used by several manufactures of the FR clothing here and around the world. This is also the fabric that is used by Tyndale, which PG&E has chosen as the vendor to supply its employees with their FR clothing needs. As per my request I have received from Westex a Material Safety Data Sheet (posted in the Archive of Safety Articles) for this product as well as an e-mail from their Vice President in Technical Services with further explanation to the safety of their product as it pertains to our concerns.
There is no PBDE’s in this product as per the MSDS. As a side note to this as of June 1, 2006 the State of California began prohibiting the manufacture, distribution, and processing of flame retardant products containing pentabrominated diphenyl ether (pentaBDE) and octabrominated diphenyl (octaBDE). PBDEs are ubiquitous in the environment and according to the EPA exposure may pose health risks.
What this product does contain is formaldehyde but at levels way below the required recordable amounts set by OSHA. Below you will find the e-mail from WESTEX.
INDURA® Ultra Soft® fabrics are manufactured utilizing an ammonia cure system with Tetrakis (hydroxymethyl) phosphonium chloride (THPC) — urea precondensate. This THPC — urea precondensate is polymerized and chemically converted to a water-insoluble polymer of high relative molecular weight, first by exposure to ammonia, and then by an oxidation process involving hydrogen peroxide. This polymer is physically entrapped within the structure of the cotton. The technology employed in application and the inability of this polymer to be water soluble, combined with the physical entrapment of the polymer within the fiber leads to durability of the flame resistance that is guaranteed for the life of the garment.
As stated in the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the INDURA Ultra Soft fabric, there is a minute percentage of formaldehyde present in the fabric. The levels on INDURA Ultra Soft fabrics are similar to permanent (durable) press cotton fabrics readily available in the consumer marketplace. While not required by 29 CFR 1910.1200, Westex has prepared this MSDS as a service to our customers, who are garment manufacturers. Textile manufacturers historically have reported formaldehyde levels within their fabrics regardless of the concentration. The level within the fabric is lower than the reporting threshold for 29 CFR 1910.1200; however, there are instances where formaldehyde can sensitize skin. People who have this sensitivity cannot wear permanent press slacks or shirts either.
The THPC chemistry employed in INDURA Ultra Soft is used extensively in the United States as well as around the globe for flame resistant work wear, children’s sleepwear, furniture and upholstery fabrics. This chemistry has been extensively tested for long-term health effects and has been found to be safe. Included are a few references to publicly available reports that analyze the chemistry and fabric. It is important to note that the information regarding the initial THPC chemistry is not relevant to the final product, as the chemical species is changed during processing at Westex.
In 1987, The National Toxicology Program (within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) released a report TR-296 regarding THPC. It concluded that there was no evidence of carcinogenicity.
In 2000, the International Programme on Chemical Safety (a joint project between the United Nations Environment Programme, the International Labour Organisation, and the World Health Organization) released a study on the health effects of THPC and fabric treated with THPC. It found that there was no evidence of carcinogenicity. There was also no evidence that the fabric was an irritant to human skin.
In 2000, the National Research Council (part of the National Academy of Sciences) released a report entitled Toxicological Risks of Selected Flame-Retardant Chemicals. This work was directed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to determine the long-term health effects of selected flame-retardants for use in consumer furniture fabrics. Chemicals and fabrics were tested for oral, dermal and inhalation hazards. This report concluded that our fabrics and the TPHC process is approved for use in residential furniture.
The chemistry that Westex employs for the INDURA Ultra Soft line of flame resistant fabrics has been in commercial use for four decades. Westex began production with this type of technology over 30 years ago. Within that time, Westex has grown to be the world’s largest supplier of durable flame resistant cotton and cotton blend fabrics. There are literally millions of garments in service around the globe constructed of Westex fabrics. Our products have repeatedly been shown to be safe and effective as a secondary protective fabric.
While this is probably more information than you had asked about, I wanted to be thorough about the product. Please do not hesitate to call or e-mail if you have further questions.
Vice President — Technical Services