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Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Zenith apologises for supplying Hong Kong secondary school uniforms containing toxic chemicals

Company says it did not know about substance, and that it bought material from registered shop about 12 years ago

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 1:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 10:39pm

A Hong Kong school uniform company apologised on Tuesday for supplying clothes that contained cancer-causing chemicals, but said it was also a victim.

“I have to apologise to the parents, schools and school uniform suppliers for making them worried,” said Zenith Uniform’s manager, who gave her name only as Ho.

This came a day after the Consumer Council revealed that uniforms for two Hong Kong secondary schools were found to contain dyes with up to 173mg/kg of 4-amino azobenzene – more than eight times the level allowed in mainland China.

A checked waist belt, made by Zenith, contained 41mg/kg of the chemical, twice the permitted level of 20mg/kg.

Uniforms in two secondary schools found to contain cancer-causing chemicals

Speaking on a radio programme on Tuesday, Ho said the cloth had been bought about 12 years ago from a Sham Shui Po shop – a registered company. She stressed that she did not know that the material contained toxic substances.

“The [factory] in Shenzhen also registered its business. What should we do? It seems like we have also become a victim,” she said.

Consumer Council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said she understood that uniform suppliers might not be able to acknowledge the problems because there was no legislation for textile products in the city. She renewed her call for textile control, saying the government should refer to regulations in other countries and set up laws accordingly.

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Wong said that when azo dyes mix with pupils’ body heat and sweat, the harmful chemical can be released and absorbed by the skin, posing a health risk.

Dr Kan Chi-wai, associate professor at Polytechnic University’s Institute of Textiles and Clothing, said however that the toxic substance was released because the cloth had to undergo “severe conditions” during laboratory tests.

Kan said azo dyes should be stable under normal conditions, but added that if factory workers failed to thoroughly wash the cloth during the manufacturing process, harmful chemicals can be left on it.