Hidden Hazards: Toxic Chemicals Inside Children's Vinyl Back-to-School Supplies

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New laboratory tests reveal children's vinyl "back-to-school" supplies are laden with hidden toxic chemicals harmful to children's health. This new investigation demonstrates that popular children's school supplies contain elevated levels of phthalates, hazardous chemicals that have been banned in toys, yet remain widespread in vinyl back-to-school supplies.

The levels of phthalates found in children's school supplies would be illegal if these products were toys. Just like toys, school supplies are used by young children that are uniquely vulnerable to chemical exposure.

Over 90 percent of all phthalates are used to soften vinyl plastic. Phthalates are hazardous at low levels of exposure, disrupt hormones in our bodies, and have been linked to birth defects, infertility, early puberty, asthma, ADHD, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. According to testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children have the highest exposures to these hazardous chemicals. As a result of the widespread use of phthalates in vinyl plastic products, they have been found in the air and dust of our homes and schools, our bodies, blood and breast milk.

Twenty popular children's back-to-school products were purchased and analyzed for six phthalates and four heavy metals, to determine whether or not these hazardous chemicals were present. In total, four children's backpacks, four children's lunchboxes, four 3-ring binders, four children's rainboots, and four children's raincoats were purchased and tested. All products were purchased in New York City during the 2012 "back-to-school" shopping season at Kmart, Duane Reade, Payless, dollar stores and other retailers. Laboratory tests were conducted by Paradigm Environmental Services in Rochester, NY. Multiple components of the same products were tested for most of the products. The products were purchased and tested in two rounds.

Overview of Results:

  • 80 percent (16/20) of children's back to school supplies sampled contained phthalates.
  • The phthalates Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), Di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP), Dimethyl phthalate (DMP), and Di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) were detected in children's back-to-school supplies.
  • 75 percent (15/20) of children's back-to-school supplies contained levels of phthalates that would be in
    violation of the federal ban for toys, if these products were considered toys.
  • 65 percent (13/20) of children's back to school supplies sampled contained measurable levels of DEHP.
  • 55 percent (11/20) of children's back to school supplies sampled contained more than one phthalate,
    indicating children are exposed to multiple phthalates from vinyl back to school supplies.
  • None of the products sampled contained labels indicating the products contained phthalates.
  • Since the phthalates are not chemically bound to the vinyl, they can migrate from within the products to the surface and be released from the products. Children may be exposed to elevated levels of these toxic substances by using these school supplies.
  • Relatively low-levels of heavy metals were detected in 40 percent (8/20) of these children's school supplies.
  • Find safer products for your children this back-to-school season!
    The good news is there are plenty of safer alternatives available. The Back-to-School Guide to PVC-free School Supplies, a guide to safer school supplies in over 40 product categories, is available to empower parents to find safer children's back-to-school supplies. The guide can be downloaded at http://www.chej.org/publications/PVCGuide/PVCfree.pdf

    About the Center for Health, Environment & Justice
    The Center for Health, Environment & Justice is a national, nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that provides organizing and technical assistance to grassroots community groups in the environmental health and justice movement. The Center was founded in 1981 by Lois Gibbs, who helped win the relocation of over 900 families from their neighborhood which was contaminated by chemicals leaking from the Love Canal landfill in Niagara Falls, NY. Through this effort, Gibbs and her neighbors woke up the nation to recognize the link between people's exposures to dangerous chemicals in their community and serious public health impacts.

    CHEJ works with the environmental health and justice movement to eliminate harmful toxic exposures. We help people build democratic, community-based organizations to address public health and environmental threats from chemical hazards. This movement organizes to eliminate harmful toxic exposures in communities impacted by hazardous waste sites, chemical plants, and other polluting industries, as well as, eliminate unsafe chemicals in products used in homes, schools and institutions.

    To view the full report go to http://chej.org/wp-content/uploads/HiddenHazardsReportFINAL.pdf

    For more information visit http://chej.org/2012/08/backtoschool2012/

    Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ)
    Topic Areas: 
    Environmental Health
    Hazardous Waste
    Target Audience: 
    Grades Pre K-12
    Geographic Location: 
    All Minnesota
    Outside Minnesota
    47 pp.
    Date Produced/Published: 
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    Is training required?: 
    Contact(s) or order information.: 

    <b>Center for Health, Environment and Justice
    Mail</b>: c/o Greenspaces
    394 Broadway, 5th Floor
    New York, NY 10007-2223
    <b>Phone</b>: (212) 964-3680
    <b>Email</b>: mike(at)chej.org