High levels of formaldehyde has been found in Chinese-made blankets distributed in Australia and New Zealand, which made local authorities recall the dangerous products from the market. The latest incident with formaldehyde in Australia and New Zealand has risen global concerns about the safety of Chinese products.
The voluntary recall by Australian-based Charles Parsons came two days after the New Zealand government launched an urgent investigation after scientists found dangerous levels of formaldehyde in woolen and cotton clothes made in China.
A range of Chinese exports - from pet food ingredients to toothpaste - have come under international scrutiny in recent months. Toy company Mattel Inc. issued two recalls of Chinese-made toys this summer because of lead-tainted paint and tiny magnets that could be swallowed by children.
Formaldehyde - a chemical preservative that gives a permanent press effect to clothes and is also used as an embalming fluid - can cause problems ranging from skin rashes to cancer.
Charles Parsons decline to release the total number of blankets involved, but spokesman Mark Bilton said "there's a lot" in Australia and about 800 in New Zealand.
Tests had shown the formaldehyde level in the "Superlux" label blankets was "above the European and U.S. standards. There are no standards in Australia and New Zealand so it's a voluntary recall," he said.
Independent tests had revealed the chemical's content was "less" that 1,500 parts per million - the maximum level permitted in Germany - but "we've decided not to get into those details," Bilton said.
An official at China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, a quality watchdog, said the case was under investigation.
Meanwhile, New Zealand government research agency AgResearch said it was swamped by clothing companies wanting tests on Chinese imports. Scientists testing clothes for TV3's "Target" consumer watchdog program discovered formaldehyde concentrations up to 900 times above the safe level.
Many companies had complained that they had no information about what constitutes safe levels of formaldehyde, said Lorraine Greer, AgResearch's textiles division testing laboratory manager.
The New Zealand Ministry of Consumer Affairs said Wednesday it would start a program to test for formaldehyde in clothes next week as part of its probe, while acknowledging the country had no standard for formaldehyde levels in textiles - a concern of retailers.
At least 100 items of children's and adults' clothing and babywear imported from a range of countries would be included in the testing, Ministry General Manager Liz MacPherson said.
"As part of the investigation, New Zealand will look at standards and testing regimes overseas," she said. "Neither New Zealand or Australia currently has a standard for formaldehyde levels in textiles."
The blanket recall comes after New Zealand cut-price retailer The Warehouse issued a recall of children's pajamas made in China last weekend after two children were burned when their flannelette pajamas caught fire.
Earlier, 115,000 Mattel toys made in China were recalled in New Zealand because of hazards from powerful magnets and lead paint.