So although the Chinese tanner is not at fault, sales in Chinese-made leather sofas are likely to plummet. Leather sofas from China have been huge business in recent years and the fungicide has been introduced to the furniture to prevent the growth of mould during storage.
According to Wikipedia, ‘dimethyl fumarate has been found to be a sensitizer at very low concentrations, producing extensive, pronounced eczema that is difficult to treat. There are only a handful of equally potent sensitizers. The extreme sensitizing risk was brought to public attention by the ‘poison chair’ incident, where 60 patients were diagnosed with allergic eczema. Dimethyl fumarate was used as a mould inhibitor. The chairs were sold in 2006-2007 and produced by a Chinese manufacturer.
In February of this year the UK television programme Watchdog investigated a number of high street retailers selling leather furniture, Land of Leather and Argos among them. Hundreds of people were reported as having experienced rashes and blistering across their body since buying leather sofas from sofas manufactured by Chinese firm, Linkwise.
Lawyer Richard Langton, of Russell Jones and Walker, is heading a class action of 300 people looking for compensation for injuries they believe have been caused by the sofas. One hundred other law firms are also leading claims. Linkwise say their products have nothing to do with the skin problems and stress that tests have so far been unable to establish a direct link between the reactions and any of its sofas.
Even after the BBC’s Watchdog programme highlighted the issue some retail outlets continued to offer the products for sale. Russell Jones & Walker’s Richard Langton, who is representing more than 300 clients affected by the sofas, and who contributed to the Watchdog programme, has revealed that customers are still coming forward with claims. He said: ‘We are acting for hundreds of claimants all over the UK who purchased these potentially harmful sofas through a number of retailers including Walmsley Furnishing, Land Of Leather and DFS. One of my clients heard a salesman asking if a customer had any allergies before selling them an identical model. Such behaviour is irresponsible at best.’
‘Scientific examination of the contents of sofas, made by the Chinese Linkwise Furniture company, has revealed the presence of fungicide in the sofas. It appears that the manufacturer had placed sachets of the fumarate either in the cushion material or immediately underneath the leather. Once people have begun using the sofas in their homes the chemical appears to have leaked out through the leather and onto the skin, causing great distress. Symptoms get worse and worse unless the sofa is removed.
‘Despite the recent publicity on national television, and the fact that these retailers are fully aware that the furniture may be causing harm to the public, some are continuing to market the sofas. Land of Leather has even been offering the goods at reduced prices as part of a sale… As we are not yet fully aware of the long term health implications of exposure to this chemical it is imperative that these items are withdrawn from sale immediately and that retailers begin to take a more proactive stance with their customers as other retailers have. They should be sending letters to all customers who have bought Linkwise furniture in the last two years warning them that if they have had a skin complaint then this could be the cause.’
Russell Jones & Walker are currently carrying out their own investigation, including instructing a consultant dermatologist and an expert toxicologist. The fungicide concerned is believed to also be used in medical treatments and in food production.