Australian Company Recalls Toxic Chinese Uniforms

Government-owned energy company recalled 14,000 Chinese-made uniforms after tests revealed high levels of chemicals were causing skin irritations among employees.

SYDNEY (Kyodo) -- An Australian electricity company has recalled 14,000 Chinese-made uniforms after tests revealed high levels of chemicals were causing skin irritations, a company spokesman said Tuesday.

Ergon Energy conducted its own tests on the uniforms and also commissioned independent testing by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization after 178 complaints of skin rashes, headaches and vomiting were reported when the uniforms were distributed to 3,240 employees on Monday.

The Queensland state government-owned energy company told Kyodo News that tests revealed the flame-retardant uniforms contained higher than internationally recognized levels of the chemicals formaldehyde and methyl chloride.

"When it became apparent there was a link to the skin reactions we started a staged withdrawal which was completed by close of business yesterday. None of our employees is now wearing the garments," chief operating officer Peter Billing said in a statement on Tuesday.

"While we have served the supplier a formal 'Notice of Rejection of Goods,' we have not yet had a response from them which identifies the cause or the extent of the problem," he added.

Ergon Energy purchased the uniforms for A$3.5 million (about $2.8 million) from Australian work wear supplier Jeminex, which subsequently sourced their products from an unknown Chinese manufacturer.

Jeminex work wear and personal safety general manager Chris Hay said its manufacturer was a trusted and long-time business partner, the Australian Associated Press reported.

He described the Chinese manufacturer's quality control measures as "first-class."

"Fire retardant clothing is in broad circulation. It's been around for some time and we haven't had this level of incidence before," Hay told the AAP.

In the past year, Australia and New Zealand have recalled a number of Chinese-manufactured products following safety concerns over blankets containing dangerously high levels of formaldehyde and toys covered in lead paint.

Formaldehyde is a chemical used in the production process to prevent creasing in clothes and fabrics and has side effects ranging from skin irritations to cancer.

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