Going Back to School Just Got Scarier: Toxins Found in Supplies

Toxic chemicals called phthalates were found in 80 percent of lab-tested school supplies.

back-to-school supplies, phthalates, toxic chemicals

Are there toxic chemicals in your kids' back-to-school supplies? A new report found phthalates in backpacks, lunch boxes and more. (Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images)

Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

Parents who are sending kids back to school could be sending them with toxic chemicals. A new report finds that a number of common back-to-school supplies may have high levels of potentially toxic phthalates.

The report, released today by the Virginia-based Center for Health, Environment and Justice, reveals that out of 20 school-related products tested by a lab, 80 percent contained phthalates, and 75 percent had levels that, if found in toys, would be higher than what’s allowed by federal law.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals typically used in in products such as shower curtains, vinyl flooring and, apparently, items kids take to school. Although studies have shown health effects on animals from phthalate exposure, less is known about a definitive cause and effect link for humans.

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That doesn’t mean the stuff is off the radar. The Environmental Protection Agency says it’s concerned “because of their toxicity and the evidence of pervasive human and environmental exposure to these chemicals.”

In 2008 Congress banned a number of phthalates in amounts higher than 0.1 percent found in children’s toys and kid-intended items meant for sleeping, eating or teething.

But a number of items used by children that may contain the chemicals don’t fall within those categories. The tested products in the report included vinyl backpacks, lunch boxes, three-ring binders, vinyl rain boots and raincoats. They were purchased in New York City recently from various retailers and were branded with familiar characters such as Spider-Man and Dora the Explorer.

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Spidey fans may not be happy to hear that when two areas of that backpack were tested, they had more than 52 times the federal phthalate limit for toys.

“It is disturbing that millions of young children are being exposed to these toxic chemicals with no enforcement to protect them,” said Judy Braiman of the Empire State Consumer Project in a news release. The group co-published the report.

“Unfortunately, while phthalates have been banned in children’s toys, similar safeguards don’t yet exist to keep them out of lunchboxes, backpacks and other children’s school supplies,” said the center’s Mike Schade, who wrote the report. “It’s time for Congress to move forward and pass the Safe Chemicals Act to protect our children from toxic exposure.”

The Safe Chemicals Act, introduced into the Senate, would set limits on toxic chemicals, overhauling the 36-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act.

For parents who want to send their kids back to school without worrying about the possible dangers from phthalates, the center also released a 2012 Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies, with tips for choosing non-toxic supplies and a list of recommended brands.

Are you going to make a concerted effort not to buy back-to-school products with phthalates this year? Let us know in the comments.

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