Kelly Burke Consumer Affairs Reporter
Sydney Morning Herald
May 21, 2007
TEXTILES imported from China may be exposing people to toxic levels of carcinogenic
chemicals. Yet the importations are going unchecked because Australia is one of the few
developed countries with no mandated upper limit for substances such as
In a report obtained by the Herald, one brand of blanket imported from China and
widely distributed was found to have almost 10 times the amount of formaldehyde
permissible under international standards.
The product, Sheridan’s ”Indulgence” blanket, was found by the Australian Wool Testing
Authority to contain 2790 parts per million of formaldehyde, a chemical classified by the
World Health Organisation in 2004 as a human carcinogen which even at very low levels
can cause skin and respiratory irritations.
The blanket is distributed through Sheridan’s commercial arm, Actil, a supplier to
hospitals, aged‐care centres and hotels. In a separate report an American laboratory
found the blanket contained 1167 parts per million, prompting a large US textile
company to abandon its plans to import the product.
A Sheridan spokesman, Matthew Mahon, said the blanket was sold to commercial
customers, such as hotels, and was not available to the retail consumer market.
He said Sheridan conducted independent testing of all products at its Adelaide factory,
accredited by the Australian Standards Association, and had had no complaints from
customers on the issue.
Formaldehyde is used by Chinese manufacturers to soften coarse synthetic fibres for
bedding, children’s clothing and plush toys; as an anti‐creasing and anti‐shrinking agent,
or to improve colour fastness.
Its link to cancers including leukaemia and lung cancer has resulted in strict limitations
to the chemical’s use in textiles in dozens of countries.
The US and the European Union have fixed limits ranging from 30 ppm for infants’
bedding and clothing to 330 ppm for general purpose textiles. In Japan the limit for
infants’ textiles is 15 ppm.
The dangers associated with formaldehyde have been recognised by the Australian
Government through its restriction of the chemical in building materials such as particle
board. But no regulations govern textile manufacturing, largely because use of the
chemical is rare and the industry has shrunk dramatically.
The Australian Wool Testing Authority has refused to discuss its analysis of the
imported blankets, saying the report is commercial‐in‐confidence.
James Horsefield, the managing director of the independent textile tester and auditor
Qualspec Australia, said that although there were cost‐effective and expedient ways for
importers to monitor and control the level of potentially harmf ul chemicals in products
manufactured in China, there appeared to be little moral or ethical imperative to do so.
“In all things to do with quality assurance … Australia is not as rigorous as Europe or
America,” he said.
Peter Dingle, associate professor at Murdoch University’s school of environmental
science, described the level of formaldehyde in textiles imported from China as
“ridiculously and dangerously high”.
“While the rest of the developed world created standards years ago, there are still
literally no standards or guidelines here,” Dr Dingle said.