The European Commission has notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) of a draft regulation amending REACH Annex XVII of (EC) No. 1907/2006 regarding the use of chromium VI compounds in leather articles and items containing leather parts. The proposed date of application is expected to fall in the first quarter of 2015.

The draft regulation will ban from the market any leather articles or articles containing leather parts that come into contact with skin which contain 3 or more mg/kg (0.0003 percent) of chromium VI. The rule does not apply to second-hand articles used by final customers before the first day of the 13th month after the date when the ban will come into force.

Chromium VI compounds are toxic and are formed in leather through the oxidation of chromium III compounds, used in tanning procedures to increase the dimensional stability and resistance to mechanical action and heat as well as to stabilize the hide. In 2010, the European Chemicals Agency added chromium VI oxide and other chromium VI compounds to the candidate list for substances “of very high concern.”

The proposed restriction focuses on the risk of skin sensitization deriving from direct or indirect skin contact under normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions. The restriction is not limited to consumers but would also cover workers who are exposed to chromium VI compound in their workplace, when wearing leather gloves or shoes. The Rapid Exchange of Information System (RAPEX), EU's alert system for unsafe consumer products and consumer protection, has recently released details of several products in Europe that pose a chemical risk due to chromium VI in leather parts. These include ladies' shoes, gloves, babies' shoes, children's sandals, jackets and protective wear.

The proposed inclusion of chromium VI in the regulation for leather products will bring REACH in line with Germany's current legislation for leather materials in toys and other consumer products.

In France, the Conseil National du Cuir (French National Leather Council) has just released a statement to emphasize the safety of the French leather market, in response to reports in the press that criticized the production methods used to manufacture leather items in certain countries. The trade body said that French authorities pay careful attention to products that are imported and sold in the country, adding that France is the only country in Europe to take samples from finished products and analyze them, thus making the market one of the safest for consumers.

The French leather, footwear and leathergoods industries have included a detection limit of 3mg/kg chromium VI in most manufacturing or purchase specifications documents for leather since 2009. According to the French National Leather Council, the chromium III used in the manufacture of leather and leathergoods is “totally harmless” and should not be confused with the chromium VI that can appear in certain finished products when the tanning process has been poorly managed.