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September 24, 2017

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New Zealand investigates chemical contamination in Chinese clothing imports

New Zealand launched an investigation into Chinese garment imports Monday after children's clothes from China were found to contain dangerous levels of formaldehyde, officials said.

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.

Ministry of Consumer Affairs general manager Liz MacPherson said it had launched an investigation into the nature and size of the problem.

"We're taking some urgent action to investigate it ... We're taking it very seriously," she told National Radio.

Prime Minister Helen Clark told reporters New Zealand has "the ability to ban products outright where they don't meet appropriate standards."

"These aren't country-specific standards, they are universal standards and if companies don't meet them their goods don't stay here," she said when asked what remedies could be taken over the clothing imports.

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

Dobson told The Associated Press that "Target" producers would not release details of brand names or importers ahead of the show's airing on Tuesday.

In China, a woman at the media office of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine who gave only her surname Xia, said she had not heard about the case. The administration is China's product safety watchdog.

A woman who answered the phone at the China National Garment Association, who refused to give her name, said "I have never heard of the New Zealand case. So I have no comment on that."

A man who answered the phone at the China Textile Industry Association also said he had not heard of the case.

New Zealand cut-price retailer The Warehouse issued a recall of children's pajamas made in China at the weekend after two children were burned when their flannelette pajamas caught fire.

The Warehouse's corporate affairs manager, Cynthia Church, said the pajamas had a label that read: 'Made in China' and 'Low Fire Danger.'

Church said all children's nightwear sold in New Zealand must comply with rigorous safety standards.

"As a result, the (consumer watchdog) Commerce Commission is having this particular brand of pajamas independently tested to ensure that they comply with the relevant product safety standards," she said.

Earlier 115,000 Mattel toys made in China were recalled in New Zealand because of hazards from powerful magnets and lead paint.

Chinese exports have been under scrutiny, especially in the U.S., China's most important export market. Regulators have turned up tainted pet-food ingredients, seafood and toothpaste with potentially dangerous chemicals and drugs.

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