Good news for allergy sufferers: GAO finds reduced use of formaldehyde in clothing

Formaldehyde levels in clothing sold in the U.S. are low and don't seem to pose a public health risk, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported Friday.

Though the common chemical has been used historically in clothing and other textiles as a wrinkle resistor, its use appears to be on the decline, even in products manufactured overseas, GAO found.

"This decline is associated with the development and use of low-formaldehyde technologies (resins) in manufacturing clothing, which has been encouraged by such factors as the identification of formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen via inhalation," GAO writes.

That's good news for allergy sufferers. Formaldehyde in clothing has been known to cause a number of skin conditions, most commonly allergic contact dermatitis, a form of eczema that causes "rashes, discoloration (particularly redness), swelling, blisters, scaling, and flaky dry skin that can itch or burn," GAO notes.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors formaldehyde inhalation under the Clean Air Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) monitors exposure to the chemical in the workplace, there are no regulations dictating formaldehyde levels in clothing.

That lack of monitoring has raised questions about just how much formaldehyde Americans are being exposed to through their clothes, particularly as more and more textiles are being imported.

Of 180 items (mostly clothing) purchased countrywide, only 10 had formaldehyde levels exceeding strict standards set by a number of foreign countries, GAO reported.

The report was mandated as a provision of the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.