A lot goes into making arc rated and flame resistant (AR / FR) garments, as you may have gathered after watching our How It’s Made series. And rightfully so – AR / FR clothing is your last line of defense, protecting you from injury in the event of an arc flash or flash fire. But how can you be sure harmful chemicals aren’t present in the finished garment?
Maybe you’ve heard in the media or come across an article warning about “the dangers of flame retardants.” Rest assured, those articles are talking about flame retardants that are not now, and never were present in AR / FR apparel in common use in the US today. Instead, they’re almost always talking about materials that go into foam, furniture, or electronics – not apparel.
It’s important to understand that chemistry is necessary for all textile production, including AR / FR clothing. But how do we know chemicals are not present in the finished product, or not at a level that is harmful? It’s all thanks to a standard test called OEKO-TEX® 100, which we covered in depth in a recent How It’s Tested episode. This test looks in textiles for various known problem chemicals and if they are detected above a certain applicable threshold, the textile fails the test. Let’s learn more from Scott Margolin, Tyndale’s VP of Technical:
As explained by Scott, formaldehyde is the most common chemical found when testing AR / FR clothing. OEKO TEX® 100 specifies the safe level for formaldehyde is at or below 75 parts per million (PPM) – in other words a fabric with equal to or less than 75 PPM passes the OEKO-TEX® 100 test.
Let’s put 75 PPM into context – it’s actually an extremely small amount. When someone reacts to formaldehyde (around 2% of the population is allergic to formaldehyde) they may develop a rash that typically lasts 1-2 weeks, like poison ivy. In order for that reaction to occur, an amount four to five times higher than what’s allowed by the OEKO-TEX® 100 test must be present. So, there’s virtually no reason someone should react to the chemicals present in AR / FR clothing.
What have you learned?