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French itch with complaints over Chinese chairs

/ Source: The Associated Press

After tainted baby milk, now toxic chairs from China.

Customers in France who bought Chinese-made recliners are complaining of stinging allergic rashes and infections.

One customer, Caroline Morin, said Friday she was stunned to learn the chair she bought last December appears to have caused the skin problems she says she suffered for months.

"You sit comfortably on something and in fact you have a bomb under your butt," she said.

The French distributor, Conforama, warned clients in July that some of the chairs and sofas presented an allergy risk "in rare cases." It has withdrawn them from sale and now says the health problems were linked to an anti-fungal chemical in the chairs.

The affair gained attention this week following French media reports exposing problems suffered by people who bought the chairs.

One was Dolores Ennrich, who says that because of long-term illness she spent a lot of time sitting in the recliner she purchased in March 2007.

She says she suffered painful eczema and skin infections on her left thigh, back and left arm that put her in a hospital for 12 days and led doctors to prescribe repeated courses of antibiotics.

"It went away, it came back, it went away. That went on for more than a year," she told The Associated Press. "It is very painful."

Conforama says it has severed its commercial ties with the Chinese supplier, Linkwise, and told its other suppliers to no longer use the chemical, dimethyl fumarate, to prevent mold.

Linkwise is based in the manufacturing hub of Dongguan in southern China.

A man who answered the phone at the company said Friday that it is working with the Chinese government's quality inspection watchdog to investigate the problem. He would not give details, his name or title.

Floods of cheap Chinese products on world markets have also been accompanied in recent years by scares over poor quality, particularly involving food.

The latest Chinese product crisis involves baby formula made from milk powder tainted with the industrial chemical melamine. It has been blamed for the deaths of four babies and illnesses in 6,200 others in China. Previous scandals involved contaminated seafood, toothpaste and a pet food ingredient, also tainted with melamine, blamed for the deaths of dogs and cats in the United States.

"Chinese, it's really dangerous. There's the chairs. The milk ...," said Ennrich. "We pay less but there are consequences."

Normally, just one sachet of the anti-mold chemical is meant to be inserted into the chairs, but some contained as many as 10, said a Conforama spokeswoman, Stephanie Mathieu.

She said the Chinese firm told Conforama that "as it was the monsoon season they decided that they needed to put more sachets in."

Conforama said it sold 38,000 of the Linkwise chairs and that customers have so far returned 800 of them.

Le Parisien newspaper, which has covered the case extensively this week, said the French Finance Ministry's market regulator, which polices consumer safety, is investigating to check that everything possible was done to protect clients.

Morin said she didn't make the connection between her skin problems and her recliner until she got a letter from Conforama in July.

A rash of cases have cropped up in Britain, too. British attorney Christian Shotton said his law firm, Russell, Jones & Walker, is representing 1,300 people who bought Linkwise recliners and sofas from British retailers and who are suing for compensation. He said there have been other cases in Sweden and Finland.

"Some of the children, some of the babies, are covered head to toe," in burns, rashes and infections, Shotton said.

"Some of the people sit on the sofa for 15 minutes and it looks like they have been out in the sun all day."