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Formaldehyde in clothing
Formaldehyde :
The basics

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance in our atmosphere. It is emitted by animals and humans as a by-product of digestion, and it is created during combustion. It can be found in smoke from fires, smog, tobacco smoke and vehicular exhaust fumes.
In more concentrated forms, formaldehyde is used in a number of industrial processes in a variety of industries, including the textile industry. Formaldehyde is generally used to give a permanent press effect to clothing, to increase stain resistance and for colour fasting. It is also used to keep garments looking new and fresh while in transit, and to retard mildew growth.
Dealing with formaldehyde safely
Trading Standards is advising people that it is good practice for new, wash able garments to be thoroughly washed and aired, preferably outside, before use, and for new clothes labelled as "dry-clean only" to be thoroughly aired before use.
The most common effect is skin irritation. Contact your GP if you are concerned about symptoms that you think may be due to formaldehyde.


<*> Questions and answers about formaldehyde in clothing
<*>

Q. What is formaldehyde ?

Ans. Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance in our atmosphere. It is emitted by animals and humans as a by-product of digestion, and it is created during combustion. It can be found in smoke from fires, smog, tobacco smoke and vehicular exhaust fumes.
In more concentrated forms, formaldehyde is used in a number of industrial processes in a variety of industries, including the textile industry.

Q. Why is formaldehyde used in clothing?

Ans. Formaldehyde is generally used to give a permanent press effect to clothing, to increase stain resistance and for colour fasting. It is also used to keep garments looking new and fresh while in transit, and to retard mildew growth.

Q. What can I do about any formaldehyde in the clothing I buy?

Ans. Trading Standards is advising people that it is good practice for new, wash able garments to be thoroughly washed and aired, preferably outside, before use, and for new clothes labelled as "dry-clean only" to be thoroughly aired before use.

Q. What are the possible health effects of formaldehyde used on clothing?

Ans. The most common effect is skin irritation.
What can I do if I am concerned about symptoms which I think may be due to formaldehyde?
Contact your GP.

Q. What is the Government doing about formaldehyde in clothing?
Ans. Consumer Protection investigated the issue when it was raised in 2007.They tested clothing, and looked at how other countries dealt with formaldehyde in clothing.Their findings are given in the following media release and reports:
Media Release Formaldehyde tests show no health is sue in clothes -17 October 2007
Government Product Safety Policy Statement on Acceptable Limits of Formaldehyde in Clothing and Other Textiles
Evaluation of Alleged Unacceptable Formaldehyde Levels in Clothing.

Health effects of formaldehyde
Existing industrial chemicals are assessed by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) on a priority basis, in response to specific concerns about potential health and/or environmental effects. NICNAS conducted a full review of the use and toxicity of formaldehyde.
The NICNAS assessment found that the most likely health effects arising from release of formaldehyde from domestic products such as blankets and clothing textiles are irritation of the eyes and nose, and allergic reactions on skin in contact with the clothes.
Breathing formaldehyde vapour can result in irritation of nerves in the eyes and nose, which may cause burning, stinging or itching sensations, a sore throat, teary eyes, blocked sinuses, runny nose, and sneezing.
Skin contact with formaldehyde can cause skin rashes and allergic skin reactions. The levels of exposure which may cause these allergic reactions will vary between individuals, and will depend in part on the individual's previous allergy history. Instances of dermatitis arising from wearing clothing containing high levels of formaldehyde have been documented.
The NICNAS review also found that formaldehyde can have other health effects, but these occur at much higher levels than can be released from textile products.
Formaldehyde in textiles
Formaldehyde is released by some textile finishes, such as those conferring crease resistance, while the garment is new. These finishes are most likely to be used on fabrics that otherwise crease easily, such as cotton or wool. Formaldehyde is very water soluble, and washing the new garments before wearing will generally reduce the amount of formaldehyde released from the fabric.
Regulatory controls
The NICNAS review recommended that formaldehyde should be subjected to more restrictions under the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons (SUSMP). NICNAS is also liaising with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on the issue of health effects arising from residual formaldehyde in clothing.
The interim benchmark residue levels announced by the ACCC are consistent with the most stringent international formaldehyde restrictions. These limits are based on international standard methods for measurement of the formaldehyde content of clothing, and cannot be compared with results obtained by other measurement methods.
Testing for formaldehyde in Australian clothing
The ACCC completed an initial program of purchasing a broad range of clothing on the Australian market and testing for residual formaldehyde content, using two recognised testing authorities in Australia. No formaldehyde was detected in any of the garments submitted. Clothing tested included infants', children's and adults' garments such as shorts, shirts, trousers, tops and nightwear. For details, please see the Product Safety Australia section of the ACCC website.
The ACCC testing program is ongoing, and may lead to recalls of any textile products with excessive levels of formaldehyde. It is recommended that consumers with a history of allergy wash new garments prior to wearing.

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