Philadelphia University to Establish Institute for Textile and Apparel Product Safety to Help Ensure Safety of Imported Clothing

Amid growing government and public concerns about the safety of imported items, Philadelphia University is planning to establish the Institute for Textile and Apparel Product Safety to help ensure the safety of clothing made overseas.

As part of its mission, the Institute will conduct research to determine if potentially toxic chemicals are present in imported clothing, identify which toxic chemicals and agents are being used and the extent of their use and help establish protocols for testing and evaluating imported apparel items.

In a related development, David Brookstein, Sc.D., dean of the School of Engineering and Textiles, will address the issue of the safety of imported apparel at a public hearing Monday in Washington, D.C., before the federal Interagency Working Group on Import Safety. 

“With concerns growing about the safety of imported toys and toiletries coming into this country, we recognized that imported textile and apparel items might also contain various levels of toxic chemicals,” Dean Brookstein said.  “As one of the nation’s leading textiles schools, we feel it is important to use our expertise to investigate the possibility of unsafe exposure to potentially toxic textile chemicals and dyes.”

For the year that ended July 31, more than $93 billion in textiles and apparel were imported to the United States from around the globe, according to data from the Office of Textiles and Apparel of the U.S. Department of Commerce.  That year, China accounted for more than 32 percent of all imported textiles and apparel. 

Established in July by President Bush to improve the safety of imported products, the interagency working group’s charge comes on the heels of recent highly-publicized incidents involving Chinese-made toys and toothpaste found to have high levels of chemicals and toxins. 

In recent weeks, Mattel recalled some 9.5 million toys in the United States because of safety concerns about lead.  And in June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers not to use toothpaste made in China after some brands were found to contain a poisonous ingredient also found in antifreeze. 

Philadelphia University, with its long-standing history of textile-related programs and a research center already dedicated to state-of-the-art research in textiles and apparel, is perfectly positioned to lead efforts to identify problems and help ensure the safety of imported apparel.  The University also is a member of the National Textile Center, a federally-funded group made up of eight top universities that conduct textiles research. 

The main problem, Dean Brookstein said, is that potentially dangerous textile dyes and finishing agents that are no longer used by United States manufacturing companies may still be in use overseas for textile and apparel production. 

Dean Brookstein, an engineer with expertise in textile technology, will be executive director of the Institute for Textile and Apparel Product Safety (ITAPS) and Jeffrey Ashley, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, will be technical director.

Michael O. Leavitt, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and chair of the Interagency Working Group on Import Safety, wrote in the working group’s initial Sept. 10 report that, while Americans benefit from among the highest standards of consumer protection in the world, “it is not possible to eliminate all risk with imported and domestic products, [and] being smarter requires us to find new ways to protect American consumers and continually improve the safety of our imports.”

The interagency group includes officials from the U.S. departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, State, Treasury, Justice, Agriculture, Transportation, Homeland Security and the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Trade Representative, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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