NZ investigates claims of Chinese clothes contamination
Sat Aug 25, 2007 13:57


This is a transcript from The World Today. The program is broadcast around Australia at 12:10pm on ABC Local Radio.

You can also listen to the story in MP3 formats.

NZ investigates claims of Chinese clothes contamination

The World Today - Monday, 20 August , 2007 12:40:00
Reporter: Samantha Donovan
ELEANOR HALL: First it was pet food, then toys, now the safety of Chinese made clothes is being called into question.

New Zealand's Ministry of Consumer Affairs is investigating claims that clothes contaminated with high levels of formaldehyde are being sold in New Zealand.

Exposure to high levels of formaldehyde can cause cancer in humans.

The claims are being aired on a New Zealand television program called Target.

Samantha Donovan asked the program's director Candace McNabb how she came across the story.

CANDACE MCNABB: We were tipped off by a consumer who contacted us because her son had bought 100 per cent cotton pants and had had an allergic reaction to them and so we started looking into the types of chemicals that are used in production and manufacture of clothing and treated… treatments that they receive along the way. So for example something like formaldehyde is used to prevent mould and mildew, things like that.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: And what did your tests reveal?

CANDACE MCNABB: Our tests were very surprising. We weren't expecting to have such high results but they… the results we got back were that on particularly highly-treated materials, like easy care fabrics, that there was 900 times the safe level of formaldehyde used on them.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Now the experts in New Zealand, what were they telling you about the danger of that level of formaldehyde?

CANDACE MCNABB: Well, actually quite often we hear about formaldehyde in building materials and things like that, so it was quite hard to find out what it would mean on clothing. But basically there are worries about it being cancer-causing and things like that. The laboratory we spoke to was really surprised at the result and actually went back and double-checked that they'd done everything right because our results were so high.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: And what sort of symptoms… there were a few young children, I believe, who were experiencing symptoms after wearing the clothes. What were they reporting?

CANDACE MCNABB: Right… Symptoms do vary, depending on whether you have a chemical sensitivity. Some people are going to be more sensitive to things like this than others. Irritation basically is the big one. You might notice skin irritation, or eye-nose irritation, because formaldehyde is a gas at room temperature so it affects, you know, your senses and things as well. But prolonged exposure… no one can really tell how serious prolonged exposure may be except that it is thought to be a carcinogen.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: So how have authorities reacted to the news of these tests?

CANDACE MCNABB: We've been glad that they've reacted in the way that they have. Our Minister of Consumer Affairs and people like that have contacted us quite urgently. I got a call at nine o'clock on Sunday night here because they wanted our results and so it looks like something will be done about it because there are not that many measures in place at the moment to even test for these kind of things, you know, no one's kind of regulating what comes into the country in this manner. So I think that the Minister of Economic Development and Consumer Affairs and ERMA (Environmental Risk Management Authority) over here are looking to set something up, which is brilliant.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: And as far as you know, could these clothes be coming into Australia as well?

CANDACE MCNABB: I would find that really hard to believe that you wouldn't have clothing manufactured in China coming into Australia. You know, that's… it’s mind-blowing when you think about it, it's this… all of the clothing that we tested had much higher levels than would be recommended as safe so, you know, the repercussions of that would be potentially all of the clothing like the ones that we tested have levels that are exactly the same. And I can't imagine all the stores around the country having to pull all the clothing that's been imported from China. There'd be nothing left in stores here.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Candace McNabb from the New Zealand television program Target speaking to Samantha Donovan. And on this side of the Tasman, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says it's aware of the reports and is investigating.



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