Chrome tanning in the emergency room

Redwood Comment
Published:  23 July, 2019
Dr Mike Redwood

A year or two ago I wrote here that some of the most senior leather buyers from major corporations were convinced that chrome tanned leather, despite being technically superior and environmentally quite satisfactory, would not survive the next few years. 

This, they thought, had arisen because of careless marketing by our own industry loosely using terms such as “heavy metal”, “chrome free” and “toxic” to market non chromium tanned leathers that turned out to be quite deficient.

In thoughtlessly demeaning chrome tanning, those doing so have created an increasing issue around CrVI. Every tanner knows how foolish these concerns are since we do not use or create CrVI in the tannery (unless engaging in risky processing) and it is only carcinogenic if ingested. Two pairs of shoes would have to be eaten before harm might begin.

The industry is trying bravely to fight back, but a tough situation has been created. The EU has already legislated to levels that are too rigorous for the reliability of even the best testing regime, with a real risk of false positives. Serious problems arise when poor legislation gets mixed up with aggressive enforcement led by groups whose interest in scientific precision is secondary to their primary objectives.

The curious case of Proposal 65 in California
This brings us to the curious case of Proposal 65 in California. California-based Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has decided to aggressively target Chromium-VI in leather goods based on noncompliance with the 3 mg/kg EU limit.

Proposition 65 is a draconian environmental law. It appears to prohibit any Chromium VI to be found in products without them being labelled with a cancer warning. The law allows private citizens to sue under this law and that has spawned a tremendous number of scams which threaten expensive lawsuits hoping for lucrative settlements.

CEH is apparently skilled and tough in such negotiations and see this as their next big cash cow if they can succeed. I am in no way expert in all the details, so I suggest anyone who might be involved, even at the periphery, to take proper advice straight away. The main trade associations are mostly aware, and in the U.S. have been monitoring the situation for some time.

As of July of this year a number of compliance notices have been sent out to brands. It would appear that CEH and their lawyers are demanding acceptance of test results from an obscure laboratory they have chosen, via their “modified” method. They are demanding withdrawal of all product identified as breaching this test limit, a reformulation or exchange of materials in future product or a notice along the lines of “this product contains chemicals known to cause cancer” with appropriate warning signage, and the payment of reparation which is apparently shared between CEH and their lawyers, with a nominal amount going to the state.

I would urge readers of this to check out the facts through their company resources as not being either an employee or employer, my information is inevitably second hand. However, I do trust my sources and worry on many points:

- this seems more about causing trouble and collecting cash than to aid environmental health
- very old stock is being searched for in stores without discrimination, especially if it brings in more brands
- if labelling becomes necessary, it is difficult for many companies to separate California stock out from the rest
- many companies have large stocks of chrome tanned leather at many stages, including crust and finished
- there is a danger that companies will shift to environmentally poor substitutes such as plastic-coated textiles instead of leather

Most of all properly managed chromium tanning is a sound way to make leather. Damaging this process, and the whole leather industry, in the name of the environment would be a catastrophe for the planet.

Mike Redwood
July 23, 2019

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood


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