Toxic Talk and Labels

Toxins Found in Back-to-School Supplies-How to Protect Your Family

+ Pamela Friedman

As the kids get ready to go back to school, one thing that most parents need to do is go shopping for school supplies. If you’re one of those parents, you may be interested to know about a new report that has to do with the safety of those supplies.

The Virginia-based Center for Health, Environment and Justice recently tested 20 school-related products, and found that many of them may have high levels of phthalates-potentially toxic chemicals linked with diabetes, birth defects, obesity, and hormone disruption. One type of phthalate has been labeled a “probable human carcinogen” by the Environmental Protection Agency.

How can you protect your kids?

What are Phthalates?

Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are used in the manufacturing of plastic and vinyl products. These chemicals make the products softer and more flexible. They’re also found in personal care products like nail polish, hair spray, skin moisturizers, shampoo, make-up and soap. Household goods with phthalates include shower curtains, food packaging, plastic wraps, and vinyl flooring.

The FDA, National Toxicology Program (NTP), and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences are currently evaluating the affects of phthalates on human health. The NTP has listed Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

Researchers from the Children’s Environmental Health Center at the Mount Sinai Medical Center reported in Environmental Research that environmental chemicals including phthalates could be linked to the increasing rates of childhood obesity.

What the Report Said

The report was released on August 27, 2012. School supplies like branded lunchboxes, rainboots, raincoats, backpacks, and 3-ring binders were tested in an independent lab. The products were purchased from stores like Kmart, Duane Reade, and Payless. Researchers found that 16 of the 20 products contained phthalates. Fifteen of those were manufactured in China, while the others didn’t specify country of origin.

The report is entitled, “Hidden Hazards: Toxic Chemicals Inside Children’s Vinyl Back-to-School Supplies,” and was written by Mike Schade. He noted in 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. It’s time for Congress to move forward and pass the Safe Chemicals Act to protect our children from toxic exposure.”

Will This Change Anything?

In 2008, Congress banned a number of phthalates in amounts higher than 0.1 percent from children’s toys and kids items meant for sleeping, eating, or teething. But these school supplies didn’t fall within those categories.

New York Senator Charles Schumer warned parents about the findings. He and the author of the report hope to motivate Congress to pass the Safe Chemicals Act, giving the Environmental Protection agency more control over chemical regulation in consumer products.

Sue Rau, from the New York State Teacher Association, said her organization hopes the report will trigger new legislation banning or at least considerably reducing the use of toxic chemicals in school supplies.

How You Can Avoid These Chemicals in School Supplies

Fortunately, until legislation changes, there are several things parents can do to make sure their children’s school supplies don’t contain potentially dangerous phthalates.

  • Avoid products made of vinyl.
  • Check the recycling symbol on the label-if it contains the number “3,” or if the letters “V” or “PVC” are underneath the symbol, the product was manufactured with PVC, and could contain phthalates.
  • Download the CHEJ’s free guide, “Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies.
  • For other tips on avoiding phthalates in other products, read our post.

Have you checked your kids’ school supplies for phthalates? What do you think of this report?

Picture courtesy KooKoo Bear Kids via


Christian Nordqvist, “Toxic Phthalates in School Supplies Used by Kids,” Medical News Today, August 17, 2012,

“Going Back to School Just Got Scarier: Toxins Found in Supplies,” Yahoo! News, August 27, 2012,

“NY Senator Charles Schumer Warns Parents About Toxins in School Supplies,” Fox News, August 27, 2012,