Email and social media messages featuring several photographs of a severe foot rash claims that the rash was caused by chemicals used in the manufacture of flip flops (Hawaiian sandals) made in China and sold at Wal-Mart.
It is true that several years ago, some customers experienced a severe skin reaction due to chemicals in a brand of Chinese-made flip flops sold at Wal-Mart. The images featured in the circulating messages were taken in 2007 and depict a rash suffered by a Florida woman who bought and wore the flip flops. However, Wal-Mart removed the rash-inducing Chinese made flip-flops back in 2007. Certainly, consumers have raised valid concerns about the health and safety aspects of many Chinese made products in recent years and caution is warranted. But, the latest social-media version of this old warning is overblown and uses very outdated images to support its claims.
(Submitted, October 2007)
Don’t buy flip flops from Walmart!
It’s for your health.
This is very true I heard it in news from one of our local radios here that our govt has to be extra careful on these cheap imports from china especially clothes because the Chinese are using some strong but cheap chemical in their manufactures. Cheap is expensive and at the same time fatal.
This is what happened when a customer bought a pair of flip flops from wal-mart. These were chemical burns!
Name and photographs removed at the request of the woman who developed the rash and initiated the email.
The original emailed version of this message included several photographs depicting a woman’s feet with a severe skin reaction apparently caused by a pair of rubber flip flops (usually called “thongs” in Australia and “jandals” in New Zealand). The message claimed that chemicals used in the manufacture of the flip flops caused the rash. According to the message, the flip flops were made in China and sold cheaply in Wal-Mart stores in the US.
The email described a real case and the photographs are genuine. The afflicted feet shown in the images belong to a woman from Florida in the United States. In 2010, several years after the incident described in the message, the woman contacted me and requested that I remove her name and photographs from the article for privacy reasons. The photographs depicted the results of apparent chemical burns caused by a pair of flip flops she purchased for $2.44 at a Wal-Mart store. After wearing the flip-flops for a brief period, she later developed a painful and debilitating skin condition.
Wal-Mart subsequently recalled Chinese made flip flops from its stores in September 2007. The Florida woman was not the only person who had reactions to the flip flops. Further cases were reported to Wal-Mart.
Apparently, however, not all wearers of the flip flops were similarly affected. According to a FOX News article on the issue, although seven millions pairs of flip flops were sold, only a relatively small number of people reported a reaction. The article notes:
Dr. Nanette Silverberg, director of pediatric and adolescent dermatology at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, said that the burning sensation is most likely due to allergies to the rubber on the shoes or to the chemical components, like Thiuram and Dithiocarbamates, used to break down the rubber in the shoes.
“When you think about the large distribution, it’s not likely that it’s the chemical coating that’s extremely toxic,” Silverberg said. “It can be allergic contact dermatitis, which is an allergy to something the skin comes in contact with. There are a variety of agents that can do it in flip-flops.”
In 2014, another, social media driven, warning began circulating that used the very same set of rash images. The message claims that ‘health professionals’ are warning consumers to be careful of everything made in China. It claims that Chinese-made Hawaiian sandals are ‘made with toxic plastics resins and elastomers from containers used to store agrochemicals and are painted with toxic paint with high lead content’ with ‘catastrophic’ results. The warning uses the images in the 2007 message as evidence for its claims.
Certainly, concerns have been raised regarding the health and safety of many Chinese made products in recent years. Consumers should indeed be aware of potential health and safety issues when buying Chinese made products or food items. However, the suggestion in the current warning that everything made in China is inherently unsafe is overblown and misleading. Millions of perfectly safe Chinese products are continually sold in stores all around the world.
And, there is no evidence that all Hawaiian sandals made in China are ‘catastrophically toxic’ or that large numbers of the rash-producing rubber footwear is being sold.
In fact, as he writes this, the author is wearing a set of Chinese-made flip-flops, as he does on a daily basis. And, said author’s feet have no rash. Nor has the author experienced a rash from any of the dozens of pairs of Chinese flip flops he has worn – and worn out – over preceding decades.
Last updated: June 5, 2014
First published: October 24, 2007
By Brett M. Christensen
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