The same toxic chemicals banned in toys have been found in a variety of school supplies, according to a study released by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. Some research indicates that those chemicals, known commonly as phthalates, are linked to obesity, asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, birth defects, and cancer.
Phthalates are chemicals used to soften plastics; they were often used in baby rattles and other toys. Phthalates were banned from toys in 2009.
CHEJ sampled 20 popular back-to-school products and found that 75 percent of them contained levels of phthalates that would be in violation of the federal ban for toys. Those samples included
• Backpacks (Dora The Explorer, The Rock, Brave) purchased at KMART
• Lunchboxes, vinyl 3-ring binders, raincoats purchased at various retailers
• Rain boots (Smartfit, Disney Princess Rose) purchased at Payless
Local 6 found the very same items tested in the study at major retailers in Central Florida. The CHEJ study questioned why the same toxins are illegal in toys, but legal in school supplies.
“Most of the exposure happens via oral exposure, so that’s something (older) kids can control,” said Dr. Josef Thundiyal. Thundiyal is a medical toxicologist in Orlando, unaffiliated with CHEJ. “Just by habit putting in their mouths, chewing it, that’s where (younger children) are going to get a lot of exposure.”
While it’s unlikely a child enough old enough to have school supplies will chew on them, CHEJ suggests phthalates in school supplies can leach out or evaporate into the air, posing dangers to children. The study, however, is not without controversy.
The American Chemistry Council, a trade association representing chemical companies, says no one is in danger.
"Parents should feel confident as they purchase their children's school supplies," the ACC said in an online statement. "Phthalates are some of the most tested substances in commerce and have been reviewed by multiple regulatory agencies in the United States and Europe, including reviews that specifically examined the presence of phthalates in typical school supplies. There is no reliable evidence that phthalates have ever caused any harm to any human in more than fifty years of use."
The American Council on Science and Health, a non-profit organization that promotes science-based consumer and media education, has offered a similar rebuttal to the study.
"There is not a shred of evidence that exposure to any such products will cause harm to anybody of any age or size," said ACSH medical and executive director Dr. Gilbert Ross. "Time and again, 'environmental' groups attack these so-called 'toxic' chemicals even though decades of their widespread use have provided mountains of evidence indicating they're safe and do not pose any danger to human health.”
Child safety advocates have advised parents who are worried about exposing their children to phthalates in school supplies to avoid the following:
• Products with PVC
• Products labeled with the word “vinyl” (including vinyl pencil cases, folders, notebooks with plastic-coated spirals)
• Products with the universal recycle symbol “3”
• Plastic sleeves for CDs and DVDs
Both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control have said more research is needed to assess exactly how the chemicals affect the health of humans.