The latest item to rise to top of my “Hot Topics” list is the concern of formaldehyde in the new TSA uniforms and the effect it is having on our officers. I have to admit, the first thing that came to mind was the “Til’ Death Do We Part” CSI episode where a funeral home employee was selling “used” clothing to second hand stores and people were dying from extreme formaldehyde exposure. Our case isn’t quite that severe, in fact, it’s not even close. But, when it comes to our officer’s safety, we take things very seriously and immediately looked into the issue back in September when we first became aware of some officers experiencing irritation from the new uniform. We also made 100% cotton uniforms available for any of our officers who needed them.
We went straight to the Vice President of Safety of VF Solutions, (The company that makes the uniforms) and he gave us some very helpful information:
VF Image Wear had an independent lab test 4 shirts - three shirts from officers that had significant skin irritations, and one from VF's inventory.
The testing tested for numerous irritants or allergens in or on the fabric, including formaldehyde. The testing showed that formaldehyde or any other irritant is NOT present in sufficient quantities to be the source of the skin irritation in a normal person, in fact the amount of formaldehyde in the tested shirts was “untraceable.” The industry standard testing would need to show in excess of 75 parts per million of formaldehyde to potentially be an issue. In fact, the testing is only sensitive to 20 parts per million, and again, formaldehyde did not register because it was below this level.
(Please note that TSA is working now conducting our own government assessment to verify the independent lab’s results using the same uniforms.)
Here are some additional factoids we learned from VF Solutions:
- The fabric used for TSA shirts has been purchased by VF Solutions from the same vendor without any changes for 10 years. In all colors, VF has purchased 105 million yards of fabric during that time, and produced 70 million shirts. In the royal blue used by TSA, VF has purchased 1.5 million yards and produced over 1 million shirts. VF Solutions has never had an issue raised or had any prior experience with skin irritations or rashes from this fabric.
- Fabric mills routinely use a resin compound which contains formaldehyde during the fabric weaving process. This compound adds the "permanent press" feature to fabrics containing cotton and rayon. This is a very common feature on the majority of cotton and rayon garments on the market today. Formaldehyde has been a component of this process since the 1960's. The government has regulations on the amount of formaldehyde that may be used.
- From internal interviews, VF has found no evidence of formaldehyde exposure from any of their own employees that cut the fabric, sew the garments or handle the garments in their distribution center.
- The fabric is manufactured solely in the U.S. at textile mills in North Carolina. The completed fabric is then sent to Mexico and Honduras to be sewn into uniforms and other clothing.
I also did some research to see how our uniform shirts compared to the formaldehyde levels of famous name brand manufacturers. I found the following in an article written by Dr. Sharyn Martin.
There is a variation in different country’s standards for formaldehyde release from textile finishes. Japan has the highest standards at 75 ppm for formaldehyde-releasing resin, compared with 300 ppm in the U.S. Some U.S. manufacturers are now using newer low formaldehyde or ‘no-formaldehyde’ finishes.
We take complaints of discomfort seriously of course, but to put this in perspective only 20 of our 45,000 have complained so far. So, as you can see from the facts, there’s no need to replace all of the uniforms as has been suggested elsewhere. It would be a shame to replace the uniform. Feedback from the workforce as well as passengers has been positive. There’s a great pride in the workforce about the new uniform.
EoS Blog Team