Thursday, 30 August 2007

Formaldehyde with your trousers?

"Formaldehyde with your trousers, sir?"
"Uh, no thanks."

In fact, "No" seems to be the actual answer to the question, "are your trousers full of formaldehyde" Worry not.

Despite the recent hysteria when TV3's Target programme "revealed" skin-scratchingly high levels of the chemical in Chinese-made clothes, the Importer's Institute points out that the only scandal here is one of shonky science:
It all started when the TV3 show Target announced that it had commissioned from AgriQuality tests on clothes imported from China. The show's producer, Simon Roy, said the results were so astounding the AgriQuality scientists thought they had made a mistake...
Headlines ensued, Sues Bradford and Kedgley spoke out, and even Judith Tizard was seen to puff her cheeks portentously. However, science and prime time TV are perhaps not ideal bedfellows, and all good hysteria comes to an end...
When the AgriQuality scientists said that the results were so astounding they thought they had made a mistake, they were on to something. It turned out that had, in fact, made a mistake. A big mistake. They tested using a method that measures a garment's total formaldehyde. This produces far higher figures than tests for free formaldehyde...
The Government has now ordered more tests - to be done properly, this time - from the same laboratory. The Importers Institute says that TV3 and AgriQuality owe New Zealanders an apology for promoting a consumer scare based on nothing more than shonky science.
The story mirrors the "contaminated soils scandal" (which councils quietly admitted recently revealed to be equally without merit), as does the moral, something Owen McShane describes as an "unfortunate pattern."
Premature science is used to scare people witless, and the news media have a field day. But when the science finally proves the fears to be totally without foundation there is no attempt to set the record straight.
Any bets as to how soon and how loudly you'll see this reported on the front pages of those papers whose headlines screamed the mistaken news? And how likely it is you'll see retractions from those politicians?

UPDATE: The Herald has the story online this morning, and the news that AgResearch has tested more than 50 garments from New Zealand clothing companies for free formaldehyde since Target aired, of which only garment exceeded 20ppm, with a reading of 50ppm. Very far from "a reading 900 times the level that actually causes harm" as the Target programme fatuously claimed.

1 comment:

  1. little green man31 Aug 2007, 06:32:00

    This tactic of making exaggerated claims, stirring up fear and concern, then refusing to retract the claims when they turn out to be false is exactly what goes on with the climate change industry.

    It's been called "climate porn" and it is indecent.

    Little Green Man


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