It's been five years since the Consumer Product Safety Commission decided that Tris-treated children's pajamas were unsafe because the flame retardant could cause cancer. But that has not kept some American companies from trying to make a quick buck by unloading the deadly nightwear. In 1981, federal investigators filed charges against five companies which, they said, were trying to sell the Tris-treated garments at flea markets and through small "mom and pop" retail stores. Now, companies stuck with Tris-treated garments are taking even bolder steps.

Last month, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found Troxler Hosiery Co. of Greensboro, N.C., guilty of criminal contempt for shipping 300,000 Tris-treated children's pajamas to Venezuela. The court had issued an injuction to prevent the company from exporting the garments, but Troxler defied the order by conducting what one judge called a "cloak-and-dagger" operation. After finding a Venezuelan buyer, Troxler listed the pajamas on its bill of sale as rags, and shipped them at night to a cargo plane that flew them directly to Venezuela, the court said. The company "back dated" the shipping invoice, the court said, to make it seem like the garments were exported before the court injuction. The court has not yet meted out a punishment for the company.