A few years ago, American consumers heard a lot about “toxic drywall” — an product imported from China that was used in thousands of new homes and emitted gases that sickened many. Now, dermatologists say there could be a wave of patients who’ve been harmed by another Chinese import: furniture.
At the Caribbean Dermatology Symposium being held this week in Aruba, conference organizer Dr. Joseph Fowler reported that while it is still rare to see dermatitis from contact with the furniture in the U.S., it has reached epidemic proportions in Europe. The irritation has been traced to dimethyl fumarate (DMF), a biocide used to retard mold growth while the furniture crosses oceans in large shipping containers. It has also been used in shoe leather and in textile manufacture.
The cause was first reported in the British Journal of Dermatology in 2008 by T. Rantanen et. al.
The European Union (EU) in 2009 banned DMF use in consumer goods because of health problems from itching to rashes to respiratory difficulty reported after exposure. Since then, there have been a host of lawsuits in Europe stemming from the “burns” caused by DMF, including one class action that brought 20 million pounds in payouts in 2010.
So, will all of this follow to America? It’s possible. Dr. Fowler said he’s seen only a few cases in his practice. He advises dermatologists to query patients with rashes or “burns”, especially on the buttocks, back of legs, and feet, about exposures to shoes, furniture, and clothing. DMF irritation should also be suspected if the patients have recently gotten new furniture, he said.
And, there is a patch test available for DMF.
Have you seen any DMF-related irritations?
— Alicia Ault (on Twitter @aliciaault)