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Toxic Chemicals in Children’s Back to School Supplies

New Report Finds Hidden Toxic Chemicals Linked to Asthma and Birth Defects in Children’s Back to School Supplies

Lab tests reveal higher levels than deemed safe in toys
New guide to safer school supplies released

For immediate release: August 27, 2012

MISSOULA – A new report reveals toxic chemicals linked to asthma and birth defects that are banned in toys were found to be widespread in children’s vinyl back-to-school supplies.

Twenty different children’s school supplies were shown in laboratory tests to have elevated levels of toxic phthalates in popular Disney, Spiderman, and Dora branded school supplies, including vinyl lunchboxes, backpacks, 3-ring binders, raincoats, and rain boots. All of the products were purchased during the 2012 “back-to-school” shopping season.  One product tested, the Amazing Spiderman Lunchbox, contained an estimated 27,900 ppm of the phthalate DEHP.  If this product were a children’s toy, it would be over 27 times the federal limit for toys.    Another product, the Dora the Explorer Backpack, contained phthalate levels over 69 times the federal limit for toys.

“Parents shouldn’t have to worry that their children are being exposed to hidden toxic chemicals like phthalates in products they use every day,” said Erin Switalski, Executive Director of Women’s Voices for the Earth, a national environmental health organization based here in Missoula. “This report underscores the urgent need to pass the Safe Chemicals Act to place common sense limits on harmful chemicals, and I’m proud that both of Montana’s senators are in support of this legislation.”

Phthalates are a class of chemicals that are hazardous at even low levels of exposure, and have been linked to birth defects, infertility, early puberty, asthma, ADHD, obesity, and diabetes.  According to testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children face the highest exposure 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, and our bodies, blood and breast milk.

“Our investigation found elevated levels of toxic phthalates widespread in children’s school supplies.  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,” says Mike Schade from the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), author of the new report, Hidden Hazards: Toxic Chemicals Inside Children’s Vinyl Back-to-School Supplies.

The new report, Hidden Hazards: Toxic Chemicals Inside Children’s Vinyl Back-to-School Supplies, found:

  • 80% (16/20) of children’s back to school supplies sampled contained phthalates.
  • Since the phthalates are not chemically bound to the vinyl, they can migrate from within the products to the surface. Children may be exposed to elevated levels of these toxic substances by using these school supplies.
  • The phthalates DEHP, DnOP, DMP, and DBP were detected in children’s back-to-school supplies.
  • 75% (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% (13/20) of children’s back to school supplies sampled contained measurable levels of DEHP.
  • 55% (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.

“It is disturbing that millions of young children are being exposed to these toxic chemicals with no regulations to protect them,” said Judy Braiman of the Empire State Consumer Project, co-publisher of the report.

The Safe Chemicals Act would require that chemicals be proven safe before they end up in products like children’s toys, household cleaners, furniture, and other consumer products. It would also require that chemical safety be based on exposure to vulnerable populations, such as children, pregnant women, and workers.

The Act passed out of the Environment and Public Works Committee last month with the support of Senator Baucus. Public health advocates are urging the Senate to bring the bill to a floor vote this fall.  The next step in passing this critical public health legislation would be a floor vote in the Senate after the August recess.

The Back-to-School Guide to PVC-free School Supplies, also released today, features a listing of safer alternatives to phthalate-laden vinyl products in over 40 different product categories, from backpacks and binders to lunchboxes and electronics.


Cassidy Randall, (406) 543-3747, cassidyr@womensvoices.org

Women’s Voices for the Earth is a national organization that works to eliminate toxic chemicals that harm women’s health by changing consumer behaviors, corporate practices, and government policies. www.womensvoices.org

ATTENTION REPORTERS: For a copy of the reports and photos of school supplies that were tested, go to: www.chej.org

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