New Zealand Probes Dangerous Chemicals in Chinese Clothing

Formaldehyde content 900 times level believed to cause harm found in testing clothes

On Aug. 20, the New Zealand government launched an investigation into allegations that clothes imported from China contained dangerous levels of the chemical formaldehyde. Scientists working for the Target television consumer watchdog program found levels of formaldehyde in wool and cotton clothes of up to 900 times the level believed to cause harm.

Ministry of Consumer Affairs general manager Liz MacPherson said the department had launched an investigation into the problem. "We're taking it very seriously," she told Radio New Zealand. "We're taking some urgent action to investigate it, which will involve undertaking some sample testing of products from across the market."

Formaldehyde is used to give clothes a permanent press appearance. International research has showed that exposure to formaldehyde in concentrations of 20 parts per million (ppm) can cause skin irritations, respiratory problems and cancer, the television program said.

Target producer Simon Rod said government scientists tested a variety of new children's and adult's clothes and the levels were so astonishingly high they thought they had made a mistake. "Our results were shocking, ranging from 230ppm to 18,000ppm," he told the Star Times newspaper."This is almost unbelievable. Some of the clothes tested have a reading of 900 times the level that actually causes harm."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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