TW Special Report
Alexium International is an environmentally responsible company that provides safe flame retardant chemistries for the defense industry and consumer markets.
Nick Clark has two decades of business experience, most recently in his role as CEO and executive director of Australia-based Alexium International. Clark is responsible for the overall management and leadership of the business in Australia, the United States and Europe. He is a Law and Economics graduate with a postgraduate MBA and has attended Columbia University as well as the Yale CEO College.
Textile World: Why are flame retardants so important in the textile industry? How have they evolved over the years?
Clark: Flame retardants are a critical safety component, particularly in the textile industry, because they help protect bedding, decorative fabrics, automotive fabrics and outdoor fabrics, as well as military and workwear. Each type of fabric needs a unique chemistry in order to maintain its unique features without compromising safety. Flame retardants can help to prevent furniture fires, provide protection to the skin should clothing catch fire, and help prevent the spread of flames for automotive fabrics, to name a few uses.
Flame retardants have been used for centuries; however, only recently have they undergone extensive changes. In the late 1970s, a National Cancer Institute study showed that the flame-retardant chemical tris (2,3,-dibromopropyl) phosphate — commonly used in children’s pajamas at the time — could cause cancer, leading the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban the use of this chemical in children’s clothes. This action, among a few others, helped pave the way for a newer and more environmentally conscious set of chemicals. Alexium was able to create a variety of products that would not negatively impact the environment while continuing to provide fire safety.
TW: What about Alexium’s new flame retardant chemistries helps prevent originally feared health problems?
Clark: According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), certain chemicals found in some flame retardants may cause reduced IQ scores, learning disorders, reduced fertility, thyroid disruption and cancer. The evidence of toxicity and bioaccumulation in some halogenated compounds and carcinogens has led to a demand for a new product that can still act as a flame safety tool without compromising health. This is why Alexium is intent on providing an environmentally friendly alternative. Alexium’s flame-retardant formulations are unique and are differentiated from existing treatments. Both our processes and products are intentionally designed to meet our own exacting requirements for safety and environmental sustainability, often exceeding industry standards.
While our products feature an environmentally friendly mix of chemicals, they remain lightweight and durable. For example, one of our products, Alexiflam NF, is a reactive, halogen-free, phosphorus-based product that can stand up to 50+ washes and is specifically designed for cotton and cotton blends often found in products such as workwear, apparel and upholstery.
TW: Alexium has a strong focus on the military textiles sector. How do Alexium’s chemicals help to keep those in active duty safe?
Clark: Alexium’s relationship with the U.S. Armed Forces dates back to our first partnership with the U.S. Air Force in 2009 to help improve Reactive Surface Treatment (RST) technology.
The chemical solution that we have specifically designed for our military division is called Alexiflam FR, which is both durable and ecofriendly. This chemical formulation works well with nylon/cotton blends, which are typical for products like military uniforms. In addition to uniforms, Alexium’s chemistries have been developed to protect military tents, backpacks, tactical gear and accessories.
TW: With the recent passing of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, how might Alexium’s environmentally friendly product fit into the new restrictions?
Clark: The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act makes important amendments to the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) as a result of an increasingly apparent need for further evaluation of existing chemicals. According to the EPA, the new law includes requirements such as mandatory evaluation of existing chemicals, a new risk-based safety standard and improved public transparency for chemical information. With this new power, the EPA can evaluate many of the chemicals that exist in everyday products. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), there are about 85,000 known chemicals — many of which are no longer being used — and about 1,000 of those chemicals need to be reevaluated to determine if they are safe.
At this time, it is hard to determine specifics about manufacturing, since this law is still very new and being analyzed. However, the amount of funding the EPA receives will play a large role in determining when they take action to review and potentially ban certain chemistries. According to the EWG, chemicals that should see early action for safety review include flame-retardant chemicals such as chlorinated phosphate esters and brominated chemicals like TBB and TBPH. A strong area of focus for this new legislation is to change its original emphasis on cost-benefit analysis when reviewing chemical safety and focus more on health and safety. With health and safety as governing factors, the EPA will likely review the use of certain halogenated flame retardants and possibly ban if not heavily regulate them.
Companies like ours that have the goal of creating environmentally friendly solutions should see this law as a welcome development because we can already produce compliant chemistries.
TW: Alexium has seen substantial growth and international expansion. What do you attribute these achievements to?
Clark: We attribute a lot of our success to having a simple and unified goal — providing products that keep consumers and the military safe with as minimal an impact on environmental health as possible.
Our international expansion has also helped us grow by opening us up to new clients. Right now, we have partnerships with distributors in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia, and we expect additional expansion. Our client base is rapidly growing both in the commercial and defense sectors. Most recently, we reached agreements with a textile finisher and major tent supplier that supplies tents to the United Nations.
Additionally, Alexium’s cost and performance advantages over existing formulas have helped us capitalize on the market. Currently, there are few competitors that have environmentally friendly flame-retardant chemistries with minimal impact to other properties while still meeting unique customer needs. Our ability to achieve this has helped us to stand out as a reliable and effective option.