Taiwan officials find high levels of toxin in cards

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 February, 2011, 12:00am

A Taiwanese government report has found that 20 per cent of playing cards have a dangerously high content of the extremely poisonous and carcinogenic agent formaldehyde.

Millions of people in China play card games, but they have been warned to be careful by the Taiwanese Bureau of Standards, Metrology and Inspection. The research conducted on random sets of playing cards points to a health risk. The report claims that 20 per cent have a high level of the deadly chemical.

'Five out of the 30 tested poker cards were found to contain an above-standard amount of free formaldehyde,' Huang Lai-ho, deputy director general of the Taiwan agency, said. He urged consumers to steer clear of packets of cards that did not clearly state their contents on the label and to dispose of them if they had a strong chemical smell. He told parents to keep cards away from children and to wash hands after playing a game.

The agency was established in 1999 under the Ministry of Economic Affairs to improve industrial competitiveness, maintain fair trade and protect consumers while ensuring sustainable economic development. It also promotes health and safety in Taiwan in line with international practices.

It is unlikely the findings of formaldehyde will deter many people from playing cards. Andrew Scott, chief executive of Macau-based World Gaming magazine, laughed off the revelations. 'In nearly 30 years of handling cards day in and day out, I have never heard of anything like this,' he said.

'Would it be outrageous to hypothesise that the Taiwan officials might have found a novel approach to anti-gambling propaganda?

'Has anyone dropped dead or been admitted to hospital due to proven toxic-playing-card syndrome? It's hard to believe, though I've known some people who looked like they were going to drop dead after looking at their cards after making a big bet.'

The Taiwan agency's report said the standard amount allowed nationally permitted 75 parts per million (ppm) of formaldehyde to be found in paper products. But officials found much higher levels when they bought and tested random decks of playing cards.

One even contained 612ppm, which could be excessively harmful to anyone playing with such cards. The report stated that a poker player using such cards could experience severe skin reactions.

Formaldehyde has been listed by the World Health Organisation as one of the possible leading causes of cancer. Manufacturers whose products exceed the legal amount are fined and even harsher sentences have been handed down.

The Taiwan agency urged consumers to play with poker cards only labelled as safe and to stay away from cards that have a bad odour.

The number of times by which the formaldehyde level on some cards was found to exceed the safe limit: 8.16 times