Chemicals in school supplies may pose health risk for children

With a new school year lingering just around the corner, there may be some questions you want to ask of the stores you shop at for new supplies in the interest of protecting your children from illness, especially about toxic chemicals known as phthalates. A recent report published by a non-profit called the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice (CHEJ) says that high levels of phthalates, some of which have been banned from children’s toys by Congress in 2008, are widespread in children’s vinyl school supplies. Studies have linked phthalates to asthma, birth defects, infertility, obesity, and even a heightened risk of diabetes in women.

Congress’ ban on six types of phthalates officially took hold on January 1 of this year. The chemicals are prohibited from existing in children’s toys and childcare articles in excess of 0.1%. The chemical is developed by Exxon Mobil and noted for its versatility and ability to add resilience as well as flexibility to plastics. Phthalates are also used in the production of certain inks, raincoats, detergents, food packing, and vinyl flooring.

Seventy-five percent of the school supplies tested had been marked for elevated levels of the chemicals. These products included popular Disney, Spiderman, and Dora branded wares such as vinyl lunchboxes, backpacks, 3-ring binders, raincoats, and rain boots. A Dora the Explorer backpack contained phthalates at 69 times the legal level for children’s toys. A Spiderman lunchbox clocked in at 27 times the standard for other children products.

Mike Schade of CHEJ, the author of the report was quoted during the article’s release as saying “These dangerous chemicals manufactured by Exxon Mobil have no place in our 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. It’s time for Congress to move forward and pass the Safe Chemicals Act to protect our children from toxic exposure.”

New York Senator, Charles Schumer, is a co-sponsor of the aforementioned Safe Chemicals Act, legislation meant to reform the nation’s chemical safety system. He echoed Schade’s comments and sent a letter urging the White House to verify the EPA’s assertion that phthalates are “chemicals that present or may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.”

However, not everyone is convinced that there is a serious risk. Members of the American Council on Science and Health, an organization known for its defense of chemicals, say the results in CHEJ’s report are unfounded and that parents shouldn’t be concerned. Dr. Gilbert Ross, ACSH’s executive and medical director, asserts that the studies are unreliable due to a lack of evidence and that high-dosage testing on rodents bears no relationship to human health. Ross also cited the conclusion of an 1998 expert panel assembled by the National Toxicology Program that there was no substantial evidence that phthalates had adverse effects on human health. The Center for Disease Control, a government agency, has chimed in only to say that further studies are necessary.

For your personal interest, the CHEJ has comprised a list of PCV free products if you wish to avoid products with phthalates in them. And if you or anybody you know have questions or concerns about being adversely affected by any of these products, please feel free to contact Altman and Altman for a consultation.


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