Tests ordered on clothes after formaldehyde scare

By Mike Houlahan

Authorities are to test a wide range of imported clothing to see if it meets New Zealand safety standards after children's clothes imported from China were found to pose a health risk.

A TV3 Target programme to air this week has found dangerously high levels of formaldehyde in Chinese-made children's clothes. The gas is commonly used in clothing manufacture, but the programme found levels up to 900 times higher than considered safe by the World Health Organisation in garments it tested.

The Ministry of Consumer Affairs yesterday ordered independent testing be carried out on a variety of imported adults' and children's clothing, from several countries, to see if they posed any health risk.

Many New Zealand-made clothing products are made from imported fabrics, with the majority of that fabric coming from China.

Neither New Zealand nor Australia regulates formaldehyde levels in clothing, but ministry general manager Liz MacPherson said a joint safety standard was one possible outcome if the ministry's investigation found a problem.

"If you put a product on the New Zealand market, you have to assure yourself that it is safe ...

the public has the right to assume you have taken all reasonable steps to ensure that that product is safe."

Consumer Affairs Minister Judith Tizard said yesterday she would ask for a meeting with the Chinese Ambassador if test results revealed widespread safety issues.

Authorities are also investigating safety issues involving Chinese-made children's flannelette pyjamas. The Warehouse has withdrawn the TWL brand of pyjamas while the Commerce Commission investigates whether the garments were faulty.

Last month, two boys suffered minor burns when their TWL pyjamas ignited.

Plunket clinical adviser Alison Hussey said both issues showed safe clothing standards should be enforced, and that manufacturers' instructions to wash clothes before wearing should be followed.

"We advise that people choose natural fibres and that clothes, particularly sleepwear, is close fitting and that it is washed before use. That children should be supervised around heaters is probably the most important thing."

Raechel Laing, head of University of Otago's clothing and textile sciences department, said very few tests were carried out in New Zealand on fabrics or garments.

"They could be testing for all sorts of things," Professor Laing said.

Daniel Silva, from the Importers Institute, said with the majority of fabric also being imported, simply buying New Zealand-made products was not the answer to consumer concerns.

"There is no standard in New Zealand at the moment concerning formaldehyde, what is considered to be a safe level and what is not considered to be a safe level, therefore nobody seems to be breaking the law. It's a separate issue whether a law should exist or not, but we don't have one."


Three grades of nightwear meet low fire danger standards: garments made from 100 per cent fabrics with low flammability. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs warns no pyjamas are fireproof, and recommends children be kept at least one metre away from fires.

A gas, also frequently sold as a soluble liquid. Commonly employed as a preservative, formaldehyde is used in many industries and has been used on clothing to combat mildew and give a permanent press effect. Exposure to excess levels can create breathing problems and cause headaches.

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