Flight Attendants Win Lawsuit, Highlight Formaldehyde Dangers

by | Nov 6, 2023 | Personal Injury, Product Liability, Workplace Safety

Four American Airlines flight attendants have been awarded more than one million dollars in a lawsuit against the manufacturer of their uniforms. The four women, and hundreds of other flight attendants, have come forward after developing illnesses from what they believe is formaldehyde in the uniforms made by Twin Hill. The lawsuit is now shedding light on the dangers of formaldehyde in uniforms, clothing, and textiles.

At Kherkher Garcia, part of what we do is stay abreast of current issues that could impact our clients and communities. This recent verdict is massive in the fight against harmful chemicals in consumer products. But there is more work to be done to protect consumers. Consumers are unknowingly exposed to chemicals like formaldehyde on a daily basis. We believe that this risk is unnecessary and that consumers deserve the opportunity to pursue justice when they suffer due to manufacturers.

Below, our product liability lawyers provide an overview of the flight attendants lawsuit, along with providing information about the dangers of formaldehyde and what consumers can do if they become ill.

American Airlines Uniform Lawsuit Information

In October 2023, a jury in California awarded over $1 million to four American Airlines flight attendants who claimed that their uniforms contained formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals that caused them a variety of health problems, including rashes, headaches, and breathing problems.

The flight attendants filed a lawsuit in 2017 against Twin Hill, the manufacturer of the uniforms, and Tailored Brands, its former parent company. The lawsuit alleged that the uniforms were made with fabric that was treated with formaldehyde to prevent wrinkles. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, and exposure to it can cause a variety of health problems.

The flight attendants in the lawsuit said that they began experiencing health problems after they started wearing the new uniforms in 2016. Some of the flight attendants said that they had to take sick leave from work because of their health problems. This is not the first lawsuit filed by flight attendants in recent history, and is not the only lawsuit involving formaldehyde in clothing.

Twin Hill and Tailored Brands denied that the uniforms were defective or that they caused the flight attendants’ health problems. The companies argued that the uniforms were tested for formaldehyde and that they met all applicable safety standards.

The jury in the case sided with the flight attendants and found that Twin Hill and Tailored Brands were liable for their health problems. The verdict in the case is a significant victory for flight attendants and other workers who are concerned about their exposure to formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals in their uniforms. It also sends a message to employers that they have a responsibility to ensure that their employees are not exposed to harmful chemicals in the workplace.

More Litigation Could Follow

According to the lawsuit, Twin Hill distributed more than one million garments to more than 65,000 American Airlines employees. In the lawsuit discussed above, there were 425 plaintiffs, with only four of those cases having been resolved. Given the number of pending lawsuits and potential plaintiffs yet to come forward, it is likely there will be more litigation in the future.

What is Formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical with the formula CH₂O (or HCHO). It is a simple aldehyde and the simplest of the carbonyl compounds. Formaldehyde occurs naturally in the environment and is also produced industrially. It is a versatile chemical with a wide range of uses, including:

  • Preservative: Formaldehyde is used as a preservative in many products, including wood products, textiles, and cosmetics. It is also used as a preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories.
  • Adhesive: Formaldehyde is used in the production of many adhesives, including glues and resins.
  • Textile Finishing: Formaldehyde is used in the finishing of textiles, such as permanent-press fabrics.
  • Building Materials: Formaldehyde is used in the production of many building materials, including particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard.
  • Disinfectant: Formaldehyde is used as a disinfectant in hospitals and other healthcare settings.
  • Chemical Feedstock: Formaldehyde is used as a feedstock in the production of many other chemicals, including plastics, resins, and pharmaceuticals.

The amount of formaldehyde that is safe for exposure depends on the duration and the route of exposure. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) for formaldehyde of 0.75 parts per million (ppm) in the air for an 8-hour workday. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends a lower exposure limit of 0.016 ppm.

Why is Formaldehyde Used in Clothing?

Formaldehyde is used in clothing and textiles primarily for its role as a fabric finisher or preservative. There are a few reasons why formaldehyde is used in clothing manufacturing:

  • Wrinkle Resistance: Formaldehyde-based resins are used to treat fabrics to make them wrinkle-resistant. This process, often called “permanent press” or “easy care,” ensures that the clothing maintains a smooth and unwrinkled appearance even after washing and drying. It helps reduce the need for ironing, making the clothing more convenient for consumers.
  • Durable Press: Similar to wrinkle resistance, formaldehyde is used to provide “durable press” qualities to fabrics, which helps clothing maintain its shape and appearance over time, even with regular wear and laundering.
  • Colorfastness: Formaldehyde-based products can improve the colorfastness of dyes in textiles. This means the clothing’s colors are less likely to fade or bleed when exposed to water or washing detergents.
  • Shrink Resistance: Formaldehyde treatment can also prevent fabrics from shrinking significantly when exposed to heat or moisture, ensuring that clothing retains its size and shape.
  • Mildew and Insect Resistance: Formaldehyde can protect textiles from mildew and insects, preventing damage during storage and transportation.

While formaldehyde serves practical purposes in clothing manufacturing, it has raised concerns due to potential health risks associated with prolonged or high-level exposure. The release of formaldehyde fumes from treated textiles can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system, and in some cases, it may lead to skin problems and allergies.

To address these concerns, regulations and industry standards have been developed to limit formaldehyde levels in clothing and textiles, ensuring they are safe for consumers to wear. Manufacturers are also exploring alternative, less harmful finishing methods to achieve the desired fabric properties while reducing formaldehyde use.

What are the Dangers of Formaldehyde Exposure?

Prolonged or excessive exposure to formaldehyde can pose several health risks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some of the risks of long-term or repeated exposure include:

  • Respiratory Issues: Inhalation of formaldehyde fumes can irritate the respiratory system, leading to symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness. Individuals with preexisting respiratory conditions, like asthma, may experience exacerbations.
  • Eye and Nose Irritation: Short-term exposure to formaldehyde can cause eye and nose irritation, leading to redness, burning, and a runny nose. These symptoms can be uncomfortable and disruptive.
  • Skin Problems: Contact with formaldehyde can lead to skin irritation, dermatitis, and rashes. Prolonged exposure, such as through skin contact with formaldehyde-containing products, may result in more severe skin conditions.
  • Headaches and Dizziness: Some individuals exposed to high concentrations of formaldehyde may experience headaches, dizziness, and even nausea. These symptoms can be particularly pronounced in occupational settings with inadequate ventilation.
  • Allergies and Sensitization: Some people may develop allergies or sensitization to formaldehyde after repeated exposure. This can result in hypersensitivity reactions and skin problems upon subsequent contact with the chemical.
  • Developmental and Reproductive Effects: In animal studies, formaldehyde exposure has been associated with developmental and reproductive effects. While these effects are not yet fully understood in humans, it is advisable for pregnant women to minimize exposure to formaldehyde.
  • Neurological Effects: Some research suggests that formaldehyde exposure may be associated with neurological effects, including impaired cognitive function, memory, and concentration. Further research is needed to better understand these potential risks.

Long-Term Health Risks

Chronic exposure to formaldehyde has been associated with more serious health concerns. It has been classified as a human carcinogen by several health organizations, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Long-term exposure has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, particularly in the respiratory and hematopoietic systems. Such cancer risks include:

  • Nasopharyngeal Cancer
  • Cancer of the Sinuses
  • Leukemia
  • Stomach and Intestinal Tumors

It is important to note that the severity of the health risks associated with formaldehyde exposure depends on various factors, including the concentration and duration of exposure, as well as individual susceptibility. If you suspect you have been exposed to high levels of formaldehyde and experience persistent or severe symptoms, seek medical attention promptly.

What Consumers Should do if they Have Formaldehyde Poisoning

If you or someone you love becomes ill due to a product containing formaldehyde, it is essential to take several steps to address the situation and seek appropriate medical attention. Here’s what consumers can do:

Seek Medical Care

If you experience symptoms like skin irritation, eye and respiratory problems, allergies, or any other health issues after using a product containing formaldehyde, seek immediate medical attention. A healthcare professional can assess your condition, provide treatment, and document your symptoms.

Stop Using the Product

Discontinue using the product that may be causing your health issues. Remove it from your immediate environment to minimize further exposure. If the product is something required for your employment (such as a uniform), speak with your supervisor and report your symptoms. You can also report your illness to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Keep Records

Document your symptoms, including when they started, their severity, and any medical treatment received. This information can be valuable if you need to take legal action or report the issue.

Report the Incident

Contact the manufacturer or retailer to report the problem and request a refund or replacement. Many companies take consumer complaints seriously and may take steps to rectify the situation.

File a Complaint

If the issue is not resolved through the manufacturer or retailer, consider filing a complaint with relevant regulatory authorities, such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). They can investigate product safety concerns.

Prevent Further Exposure

Be cautious with other products that may contain formaldehyde, such as certain cosmetics, household products, or clothing. Read product labels and avoid or limit the use of items with high formaldehyde content. The following household products commonly contain formaldehyde:

  • Pressed Wood Products: Plywood, particleboard, and medium-density fiberboard (MDF) are commonly used in furniture, cabinets, flooring, and other household products. These products are made with adhesives that contain formaldehyde.
  • Home Furnishings: Carpets, rugs, draperies, and other home furnishings may be treated with formaldehyde to prevent wrinkles and stains.
  • Paints and Coatings: Some paints and coatings contain formaldehyde as a preservative.
  • Cleaning Products: Some cleaning products, such as disinfectants and fabric softeners, contain formaldehyde as a preservative.
  • Personal Care Products: Some personal care products, such as shampoos, conditioners, and nail polish, may contain formaldehyde as a preservative.
  • Building Materials: Insulation, wallpaper, and other building materials may contain formaldehyde.

Advocate for Safe Products

Raise awareness about your experience and the potential risks of formaldehyde-containing products within your community. Encourage responsible manufacturing and consumer safety practices.

Get Legal Advice

If your illness is severe or if you believe the product containing formaldehyde has caused significant harm or long-term health problems, consult with a personal injury attorney. They can provide guidance on potential legal actions, such as filing a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer or distributor.

Get Help with Formaldehyde Poisoning from Consumer Products

If you have been diagnosed with formaldehyde poisoning or other illnesses related to formaldehyde exposure, and you believe a consumer product is the cause, contact Kherkher Garcia as soon as possible. As a consumer, you have the right to question whether a manufacturer was negligent in their design, manufacturing, or distribution of their products. The product liability lawyers at Kherkher Garcia can help.

At Kherkher Garcia, our lawyers have decades of experience helping consumers protect their rights. We have recovered billions of dollars on behalf of clients harmed due to dangerous or defective products. Find out how we can help you by contacting us for a free consultation. Together, we will explore your situation and determine the best course of action.

Get started by calling us at 713-333-1030, or reach out to us online.


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Steve Kherkher

Steve Kherkher

Founding Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Founding Firm Partner Steve Kherkher. Steve has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 30 years. He has won $300 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. He is a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been catastrophically injured.

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