UPDATED: Over the past month, clothing chains Target Australia, MYER, Rivers Australia, Just Jeans, Jeanswest, Cotton On & bedding retailer Pillow Talk recalled items, including children’s jeans, coloured with “azo dyes” known to break down into carcinogenic chemicals.
Despite Australian officials recognising the risks, importers are able to import such clothing. Not all azo dyes are a problem but many are known to create a risk after prolonged direct contact. Europe has banned such imports and the US has restrictions in place, prompting fears Australia could become a dumping ground for hazardous clothing.
These retailers have now voluntarily recalled more than 120,000 items of clothing and manchester tainted with this carcinogenic dye. The risk is heightened if the textile has prolonged contact with the body.
Target has announced the biggest recall so far. Customers are asked to return purchases from 45 lines including 18 lines of infants’ and children’s jeans, shorts and pants and 27 lines of women’s jeans.
Europe has banned the use of azo dyes in textiles, and the US has restrictions, but in Australia the sale of fabric coloured with azo dyes is legal. Last month, the federal Department of Health decided that from June 1, the dye would be classed as dangerous poison, the same category as cyanide, strychnine and arsenic.
The Australian Health Department’s National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme wants to ban hazardous azo dyes from sale and recommended the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission restrict imports of hazardous dyed clothing and textiles. But no laws or rules have yet been changed to restrict their import.
A Rivers Australia spokesman said about 1400 pairs of jeans were sold before the recall. “While this dye stuff is not banned for textile use in Australia, Rivers Australia does not permit its inclusion in our products,” he said.
An investigation has begun to find out how it occurred. A Just Jeans spokeswoman said the company would no longer use the supplier responsible for the recalled Chinese garments. It wanted to maintain its high standards, she said.
Australian international supply chain management consultant Paula Rogers said Australia’s chemical laws were “pathetic” and she was concerned clothing rejected for safety reasons overseas would end up here. The dyes could colour any imported clothing regardless of quality or price.
Australian Cancer Council scientific adviser Professor Bernard Stewart said some azo dyes were identified as strong cancer-causing agent in rats and mice fed and injected with the substance in the 1930s.
He said it was good practice to avoid exposure to those hazardous dyes, and he commended the recalls. “Their action has to be seen as good practice,” he said.
For more details, please check out each individual recall below with images of the recalled products: