Why Formaldehyde is used:
Formaldehyde is a chemical used in manufacturing products by many industries including textiles. It is ubiquitous in nature and has been known for a long time to be a sensitizer. In the textile industry, formaldehyde is used in very small quantities used in wet processing to create durable press (DP) properties in textile fabrics.
The use of formaldehyde in textiles and apparel has been a growing concern of American consumers as the chemical is classified as a possible carcinogen. One study found that when mice were exposed to high levels of formaldehyde, over long periods of time, the mice did develop tumors (this study was conducted in the 1980’s).
U.S. Textile Industry Response to Public Concern:
In response to public concern, the U.S. textile industry invited the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to join in a research project to determine if formaldehyde as used by the domestic textile industry could pose a health risk for consumers. The joint study was conducted by an independent research laboratory using durable press treated fabric processed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s textile laboratory in a way typical of commercial production.
Results of the research were evaluated and it was the consensus of all participants that formaldehyde used by the U.S. Textile Industry in very small quantities is metabolized in the skin and none was found at other sites. It was concluded by all research participants that formaldehyde, in very small amounts, used by the U.S. Textile industry does not pose a significant health risk for consumers.
It is important to note that this study addressed U.S-produced fabric only and cannot be considered indicative of formaldehyde levels on foreign finished fabrics. Unfortunately, many countries manufacture textiles and apparel with much higher levels of Formaldehyde. There is also close to zero testing of this chemical when the product enters the U.S. market. This equates to the average consumers clothing potentially having much higher levels of the chemical then what the U.S. CPSC has determined as safe for the human body.
Since the concern of formaldehyde has been raised and continues to worry consumers, the U.S. textile industry has continued to find ways to reduce the levels of formaldehyde textiles. While U.S. textiles and apparel contain safe levels of formaldehyde, imported items, particularly items for babies and small children, may contain unsafe levels of this chemical due to lack of adequate testing for imported products.
Formaldehyde is not government regulated in the U.S. and thus consumers must be, and have been the driving force in the elimination of the chemical in textiles and apparel. While the U.S. industry has listened to the American consumer, many countries continue to manufacture with unsafe levels of the chemical.
It is important for consumers to be mindful of where clothes are produced, how they are made, and what medical science and the U.S. government has determined is safe when making purchases which utilize chemicals in the manufacturing process.