New Zealand TV Program Says Chinese-Made Children's Clothes Are Contaminated With Formaldehyde

The New Zealand Ministry of Consumer Affairs is investigating claims made by a New Zealand television program that Chinese-made children’s clothes are contaminated with formaldehyde. The consumer watchdog program tested woolen and cotton clothes after receiving a complaint that a child had suffered an allergic reaction.

The tests concluded that some clothes had concentrations of formaldehyde 900 times the “level that causes harm.” Formaldehyde is used as a preservative and as an embalming fluid and may cause cancer. From the Washington Post:

“Target” production manager Juanita Dobson said the garments tested were “randomly selected items” that are “readily available from common outlets round New Zealand.”

“We are not releasing further details” of brand names or importers ahead of the show airing on Tuesday, she told The Associated Press.

A woman with the media office of China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, who gave only her surname Xia, said she had not heard of the New Zealand case. The administration is China’s product safety watchdog.

People who answered phones at the China National Garment Association and the China Textile Industry Association also said they had not heard of the case.

The program’s director, Candace McNabb, says the lab was shocked by how high the level of contamination was:

“We were tipped off by a consumer who contacted us because her son had bought 100 per cent cotton pants and had an allergic reaction to them,” she said.

“So we started looking into the types of chemicals that are used in production and manufacture of clothing and treatments that they receive along the way. For example, something like formaldehyde is used to prevent mould and mildew, things like that.”

“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 results and actually went back and double-checked that they’d done everything right because our results were so high.”

NZ Investigates China Clothes Imports [Washington Post]
NZ tests find formaldehyde in Chinese-made clothes [ABC News, Australia]


Edit Your Comment

  1. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Meanwhile, New Zealand cut price retailer The Warehouse issued a recall Sunday for children’s pajamas made in China after two children were burned when their flannelette pajamas _ which were labeled “Low Fire Danger” _ caught fire.

    I wonder if the parents used fabric softener on those pajamas. Because as some of us know, fabric softener tends to make clothing more flammable.

  2. superqueen23 says:

    Anyone else bothered by the fact that they won’t release which clothes may be harmful prior to their newscast?

  3. Think this will make anyone reconsider the sandal incident?

    @superqueen23: Very much so.

  4. hubris says:

    My goodness, China is certainly take a lot of body blows recently, aren’t they? Their economy is gonna take a major hit as trust goes in the toilet.

  5. Faerie says:

    I swear something similar was a plot line for CSI several years back.

  6. bohemian says:

    The news team show is called “Target”. Not the retailer Target. I had a minor panic since I sent one of my kids off to the first day of school in an outfit from Target stores.

    There were already some clothing recalls in the last six months. Most were lead ornaments or choking hazards and included places like Nordstroms.

    I had a brief thought that maybe I should just make some of our kids clothes. But what assures me the fabric I buy was not contaminated in production and shipment just like the finished items in question. The same goes for better clothing made in the US or other countries. Even if your buying from a company that had the item made in the US, Europe or Mexico nothing assures you that THEY didn’t get tainted fabric sent to them from China for production.

  7. @superqueen23: That does seem rather irresponsible. What if somebody has any problems with these items between this announcement and the airing of this story?

  8. tvd says:

    I worked in retail in the early ’90s during college and I was told that the clothes had formaldehyde on them, and that’s why they were wet when we pulled them out of their plastic packaging to put them on hangers and steam them. Yuck!

  9. floofy says:

    Chinese are trying to kill everyone so they can take over the world.

  10. revmatty says:

    @bohemian: Even if it’s made in another ‘third world’ country there’s no guarantee that there isn’t some other problem totally unrelated to China. Your implication that if there’s something dangerous about a product then it MUST be China’s fault is indicative of the state of mind of the general public.

    However, these problems are endemic to sending the work overseas regardless of where it’s being sent. The CEO of Mattel made a great point when asked about the volume of recalls related to Chinese products lately and he said that there are so many right now because most things are being made in China. As he pointed out, when most things were being made in Mexico or Korea there were about the same percentage of recalls as there are from China now.

  11. lincolnparadox says:

    I hate to break it to everyone, but aldehydes, including formaldehyde, are commonly used to preserve all kinds of fabrics and materials. This is why your sheets are stiff and stain-free, fresh out of the package.

    So, what can you do? Wash everything fabric before you wear it or use it, including drapes/curtains, towels, blankets/sleeping bags, etc, etc, etc. Also, if you buy a new throw rug, or get new carpeting, a steam cleaning could save you a lot of irritation later.

    One quick run-through the washer and the Kiwi tots would have been A-OK.

    Granted, all that formaldehyde probably goes into streams/rivers/lakes/oceans…

  12. lincolnparadox says:

    Sorry, reference for those who care:


  13. CyGuy says:

    I don’t think the Target investigative team has done much investigation.

    One reason formaldehyde may have been used is it had been the primary way of making cotton fabrics “wrinkle-free” since the cancer concerns came to light, that process has gone out of favor – but because the alternatives are much more expensive, and it is still legal, it is still used. The formaldehyde is combined with urea or (ironically melamine) to form a resin which shouldn’t irritate the wearer, but various things can occur which increase the amount of ‘free’ formaldehyde.

    Also, you can only be allergic to proteins, but formaldehyde can cause skin rashes.

  14. Chicago7 says:

    The Chinese are just fa-ing with us now!

    “We don’t care, we don’t have to! We make everything you buy!”

  15. Voyou_Charmant says:


  16. Lula Mae Broadway says:

    A close friend of mine is a therapist who specializes in kids with autism, and she recently showed me (with the kids name covered up), the results of toxicity levels in one of her patients. It was a hair test and the numbers were off the charts for alumninum, mercury and other toxins – it was completely frightening.

  17. Crazytree says:

    I Chinese
    your pajamas dyed
    full of tasty formaldehyde

  18. Chicago7 says:

    I buy all my stuff from Malaysia.


  19. lincolnparadox says:

    @Lula Mae Broadway: While heavy metal poisoning, especially mercury, has been linked to some of the sporadic cases of autism, the disease itself has a number of possible causes. Everything from genetic, to developmental, to environmental or dietary causes. There’s no one cause of PDD.

  20. iKnow says:

    @Chicago7: Idiot. Do you think those suppliers can afford to make such high quality products that these huge corporations provide them with? It’s not China jerking you, its the company, because they damn well know the deal. Read a book dude.