New Zealand officials launched an investigation into Chinese garment imports Monday after children's clothes from China were found to contain dangerous levels of formaldehyde.
The government ordered the probe after scientists testing clothes for TV3's "Target" consumer watchdog program discovered formaldehyde concentrations up to 900 times above the safe level in woolen and cotton clothes from China.
"Target" producer Simon Roy said scientists from the government agency AgriQuality tested a variety of new children's and adult's clothes and the results were so astounding they thought they had made a mistake.
"Our results were shocking, ranging from 230 ppm (parts per million) to 18,000 ppm," he said. "Some of the clothes tested have a reading of 900 times the level that actually causes harm."
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, reports China Post.
Little is known about how chemicals in clothing can affect people. But concern over pesticides and chemicals in fabric has sparked consumer interest in organic baby clothes that can be purchased everywhere from small boutiques to Target.
Formaldehyde is used to give clothes a "permanent press" look. Exposure to it in concentrations of 20 parts per million (ppm) can cause eye, skin and nasal irritations, respiratory problems, asthma and cancer.
"A variety of new children and adult clothes were tested, including a girl's top, school shorts, a Spiderman T-shirt, and pajamas. The results ranged from 230 ppm to 18,000 ppm," according to the television report, reports Chicago Tribune.