Toxic Sofa Dermatitis from Furniture from China
Updated: Jun 8, 2018
Did you ever sit on your sofa with the bare skin on your arms, back, or legs touching the leather? Several years ago in 7 European countries, an epidemic of severe rashes were so widespread that more than 5,000 residents in the UK alone filed court cases. Fines totaled 20 million pounds.
The culprit? A toxic chemical hidden in the sofas and armchair furniture by the Chinese manufacturers.
When furniture stores want to dramatically increase their volumes of leather furniture, at low prices, they turn to China and other countries. Leather from that area is lower quality, has more blemishes, but is less expensive. (Please see the “Source of Leather Hides” chart HERE.) 
But there was a problem. The high temperature and high humidity during overseas storage and transport by sea caused mold and E. coli to grow in the leather, whether in stacked hides or on the finished sofas and chairs.
To inhibit this, some large Chinese manufacturers inserted desiccant sachets of silica beads laced with antimold DMF (Dimethyl Fumarate) within the textile gusset of sofas and chairs prior to shipping, as reported in Expert Review of Dermatology, June 2011. 
DMF was designed to evaporate in the high heat  and spread onto the leather in order to prevent the mold and E. coli growth. 
Example silica DMF desiccant packet tucked into furniture pieces, showing “Mouldproof Agent” 
This had unintended consequences. The antifungal DMF was indeed absorbed by the leather, but was then passed on to the occupant’s skin or clothing – even after they left their sofa. 
It was later learned that DMF is a powerful irritant and allergen, producing a type IV (delayed) hypersensitivity reaction, even in miniscule amounts. It is responsible for causing skin ulceration or blistering. In addition, skin rashes and conjunctivitis have also been reported as a result of exposure to DMF. 
The burning rash was initially noticed in Sweden, Poland, Finland, and France:
French Retailer in Hot Seat Over Chinese Chairs, September 22, 2008
After tainted baby milk, now it’s toxic chairs from China.
Customers in France who bought Chinese-made recliners are complaining of stinging allergic rashes and infections… The French distributor, Conforama, warned clients in July … has withdrawn them from sale and now says the health problems were linked to an anti-fungal chemical in the chairs…” 
Soon thereafter, in UK in 2006-2008, an epidemic of people developed painful rashes or skin eruptions. (Later additional case reports came from other countries - Belgium, Ireland, and Spain .) Doctors finally correlated the rashes to recent leather furniture purchases. 
In the UK alone, 5,000 cases were heard in the court system, and fines of greater than 20 million pounds were paid to these purchasers. 
If you purchased new upholstered furniture in the 2001-2010 time period, and experienced any skin or respiratory irritation since then, DMF may be the cause.
Going forward, if you are prone to skin allergies, realize that you will spend several hours a day in your favorite furniture. Remember to ask the salesperson whether the leather item was made in or shipped from China or other Pacific Asian country.
Even though the EU European Commission banned DMF in consumer imports in April 2009 [13,] no such ban was created in the US. (DMF is the main ingredient in oral Tecfidera, and sold to treat MS Multiple Sclerosis patients. It provides $4 Bn / year to its owner Biogen.)   
DMF is not likely present in the silica gel packets inserted in furniture fabric folds or shoe boxes today, but DMF was chosen as the Allergen of the Year in the US in 2011 (by the American Contact Dermatitis Society), to highlight that it was still used in overseas products. 
It is not known whether DMF is applied today near leather furniture and shoes prior to shipment from Asia, even though it is not currently included in these silica packets.
A Few USA Manufacturers are Issuing Assurances
Larry Thomas, News Editor, Furniture Today reports that some USA manufacturers are distancing themselves from DMF. King Textiles introduced an “imitation leather” fabric called Leather Gel. Since so many consumers are tricked when the word “leather” is used in manufacturer’s tags, King made sure that no DMF was in this melted scrap plus polyurethane mixture.
King Textiles introducing Leather Gel fabric
Larry Thomas, September 12, 2014
HIGH POINT — Fabric supplier King Textiles has introduced a leather-like product constructed of leather scraps that have been melted into a gel. … Leather Gel, a new leather-like fabric from King Textiles can be seen at the High Point Market… The company said the melted scraps are combined with polyurethane and set into the face of the fabric, giving it the look and feel of high-end Italian leather…
In addition, King Textiles said the construction process for Leather Gel eliminates the chemical dimethylformamide, or DME, an industrial solvent that some scientists believe is harmful to humans. 
Please purchase your next furniture from a reputable manufacturer in the USA. These are handmade primarily in North Carolina family-owned companies, specified by you, constructed in 8-10 weeks, and shipped to you within 2 weeks later.
No mold. No E. coli. No DMF in this handmade furniture.
BUY USA, and don’t bring mold into your home!
 Jack Rasmussen. “Where in the world do leather hides come from?” March 2018, www.winecountryfinefurniture.com/types-of-leather
 “A public danger induces common action: contact allergy epidemic to dimethylfumarate in Europe”, Expert Review of Dermatology, Ana Giménez-Arnau, June 2011, https://tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1586/edm.11.23
… The strong sensitizing capacity of DMF has been demonstrated in humans. DMF was responsible for an ‘epidemic’ of contact dermatitis (CD) related to furniture, such as sofas and chairs, and to clothes, such as shoes, hats and jeans. Acute irritant CD, allergic CD, contact urticaria or lichenoid eruption were suffered by patients, even requiring urgent hospital admission. Most of them maintained painful skin even months after the episode. The responsible agent DMF was found mainly in the antimold sachets included in the textile gusset of sofas and shoe boxes of products manufactured in China…
 “Sofa Dermatitis”, Liji Thomas, M.D., https://www.news-medical.net/health/Sofa-Dermatitis.aspx
Leather furniture exported after manufacture in China is packed with sachets of the potent antifungal, DMF. This is deemed necessary to keep the leather dry and mold-free during transit and storage in humid warehouses.
However, DMF is known to evaporate from the sachets, seeping into the leather and transferring on to skin and clothing. It is a powerful irritant and allergen, producing a type IV (delayed) hypersensitivity reaction, even in miniscule amounts. It is responsible for causing skin ulceration or blistering. In addition, skin rashes and conjunctivitis have also been reported as a result of exposure to DMF.
Many patients complain that their symptoms are not relieved with cessation of direct exposure i.e., after selling or disposing of the treated furniture. Apparently, the volatile chemical can remain in the air and deposit on the furniture. It then penetrates it to reach the skin when someone sits on the sofa, chair, or couch. Some individuals have extreme hypersensitivity to DMF. Some items of clothing and footwear are also known to contain DMF sachets.
 “Inhibition of Escherichia coli by dimethyl fumarate”, International Journal of Food Microbiology, HH Wang, April 11, 2001, Int J Food Microbiol. 2001 Apr 11;65(1-2):125-30.
… The inhibitory activity of DMF against E. coli increased with increasing concentration of DMF… Under conditions of restricted availability of oxygen, E. coli was more sensitive to DMF…
 Photo of DMF Laced Desiccant Packet,2012, https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/allergy-to-dimethyl-fumarate
DMF sachets are found stapled to the wooden frame or directly under the leather covering of couches. They are also placed directly into packaging such as shoe boxes. Although finished leather goods hold very little moisture and, therefore, not prone to mould, the problem arises when transporting these items between different climates. Confined spaces and humid environments can lead to moisture build-up and mould growth. The crystalline DMF powder works to prevent mould growth by evaporating over time. However, during this process it also permeates the leather goods.
 “Chemical in Furniture Linked to Skin Rashes”, Charlene Laino, March 5, 2010, https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/news/20100305/chemical-in-furniture-linked-to-skin-rashes
… The chemical, dimethylfumate (DMF), can penetrate the fabric and subsequently clothing when a person sits on the furniture, says Joseph F. Fowler Jr., MD, clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Louisville, Kentucky.
DMF is also used in the shipping of some clothing and shoes, Fowler says. And some people are very allergic to the preservative, he tells WebMD.
When they come into contact with DMF, susceptible individuals develop contact dermatitis, a rash that can occur anywhere on the body. Irritated skin becomes dry and chapped and eventually red, scaly, and inflamed.
At the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, Fowler described what he called "an epidemic of Chinese sofa and chair dermatitis."
 “Sofa Dermatitis”, op. cit.
 “The cause of the Chinese sofa/chair dermatitis epidemic is likely to be contact allergy to dimethylfumarate, a novel potent contact sensitizer”, British Journal of Dermatology, T. Rantanen, July 2008, Br J Dermatol. 2008 Jul;159(1):218-21. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2008.08622.x. Epub 2008 Jul 1.
… A small epidemic of severe contact dermatitis cases related to newly acquired sofas anhttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18503603d chairs has surpassed the news threshold in Finland and the U.K. … The cause of the Chinese sofa/chair dermatitis epidemic is likely to be contact allergy to dimethylfumarate, a novel potent contact sensitizer.
 “French Retailer in Hot Seat Over Chinese Chairs”, https://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/09/french-retailer-in-hot-seat-over-chinese-chairs/ September 22, 2008
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… The French distributor, Conforama, warned clients in July … has withdrawn them from sale and now says the health problems were linked to an anti-fungal chemical in the chairs…
 “An outbreak of furniture related dermatitis ('sofa dermatitis') in Finland and the UK: history and clinical cases”. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. April 24, 2010, J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. P Susitaival, 2010 Apr;24(4):486-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-3083.2009.03429.x. Epub 2009 Sep 30.
In February 2007, an epidemic of severe dermatitis from Chinese recliner chairs and sofas started to unfold first in Finland and a few months later in the UK. … Reports from other countries (Belgium, France, Ireland, Sweden and Spain) have since appeared, and the EU has banned the use of DMF in consumer products.
 “Toxic sofas- largest consumer group action in the UK”, Kennedys Law LLP, September 20, 2010, https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=e1d9413c-0a82-4640-9be4-c5182cc7af0f
Over 2,000 people lodged proceedings in the United Kingdom and it was alleged that up to 50,000 UK households could have been affected. The contaminated sofas gave rise to what is believed to be the largest consumer group litigation in UK legal history. … In October 2008 an advertising campaign was launched to warn the public of the potential link between skin rashes and the affected sofas.
The burns were caused by dimethyl fumarate …. Exposure … caused rashes and pain similar to severe sunburn or scalding. The use and manufacture of the chemical has been banned under EU biocides legislation since 1998, but it was legal to import it into the European Union until 1 May 2009.
On 26 April 2010 the High Court announced that consumers injured by the toxic sofas will share a payout of up to £20 million…
 “Toxic sofas- largest consumer group action in the UK”, Kennedys Law LLP, ibid.
 “DMF banned in consumer products in EU”. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, April 16, 2009, https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=19c71de6-8560-4065-8485-14a0562ef876
The use of the biocide dimethylfumarate (DMF) in consumer products such as couches and shoes was recently banned across the EU. … Products that contain DMF and are already on the EU market must be withdrawn or recalled without delay….Group litigation has been started in the UK against a number of suppliers of furniture that is alleged to have been supplied with sachets of DMF.
 “Dimethyl fumarate is an anti-inflammatory for MS patients”, https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB08908
Dimethyl fumarate is an anti-inflammatory. It is indicated for multiple sclerosis patients with relapsing forms and is also being investigated for the treatment of psoriasis. The mechanism of action of dimethyl fumarate in multiple sclerosis is not well understood. … Dimethyl fumarate is marketed under the brand name Tecfidera.
 “Multiple Sclerosis Drug Tecfidera: FDA Mandates January 2017 Label Change Which Adds Warnings About Liver Injury Cases”, http://www.drug-injury.com/druginjurycom/2017/02/multiple-sclerosis-ms-treatments-tecfidera-liver-injury-drug-safety-fda-label-changes-side-effects-warnings.html
(Posted by Tom Lamb) Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate) was approved by the FDA in 2013 as a treatment of patients with relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS). … A more recent major change came in January 2017, with this one adding liver injury to the Warnings and Precautions part, as seen in the current Tecfidera drug label.
 "Possible liver injury added to label of Biogen MS drug", Reuters, January 25, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-biogen-tecfidera/possible-liver-injury-added-to-label-of-biogen-ms-drug-idUSKBN1592KQ
The prescribing label for Biogen Inc's big-selling oral multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera has been updated to include a warning of potential liver injury that could require hospitalization, the company said on Wednesday.
However, the updated label says signs of liver injury resolved when those patients stopped taking the medicine.
Tecfidera, the world's top-selling oral MS treatment, accounts for about a third of Biogen revenue. It had sales of $1.03 billion in the third quarter....
A Biogen spokeswoman said there have been 14 cases of liver injury reported out of some 230,000 patients treated with Tecfidera.
 “Allergen of the Year in the US in 2011, Dimethyl Fumarate (2011)”,
Review ACDS’ Allergen of the Year 2000-2015, American Contact Dermatitis Society, https://www.the-dermatologist.com/content/review-acds%E2%80%99-allergen-od-year-2000-2015
… However, some cases of DMF dermatitis have been more difficult to decipher given the presentation of posterior lower extremity and back dermatitis. These were eventually linked to exposure to leather sofas and armchairs imported from China.44 DMF used in sachets placed inside sofas can cause pruritic eruptions in areas of skin-to-sofa contact.
In 2009, the European Commission banned the importation of consumer products containing greater than the maximum allowable amount of DMF due to the increasing incidence of allergic reactions to furniture and shoes.45 DMF was chosen as the Allergen of the Year for 2011 to highlight that it was still used in overseas products.
 Larry Thomas. “King Textiles introducing Leather Gel Fabric”, September 12, 2014, http://www.furnituretoday.com/article/491662-king-textiles-introducing-leather-gel-fabric
HIGH POINT — Fabric supplier King Textiles has introduced a leather-like product constructed of leather scraps that have been melted into a gel. … Leather Gel, a new leather-like fabric from King Textiles can be seen at the High Point Market… The company said the mehttp://www.winecountryfinefurniture.com/lted scraps are combined with polyurethane and set into the face of the fabric, giving it the look and feel of high-end Italian leather…
In addition, King Textiles said the construction process for Leather Gel eliminates the chemical dimethylformamide, or DME, an industrial solvent that some scientists believe is harmful to humans.
 Classic Leather, Inc. www.winecountryfinefurniture.com/classic-leather
 Temple Furniture www.winecountryfinefurniture.com/fabric