by guest blogger Mike Schade, of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ)
While millions of children across America returned to school this month, many parents were unaware that children's back-to-school products currently on store shelves contain high levels of toxic chemicals called phthalates, used to soften vinyl plastic.
These chemicals are so toxic they've been banned for use in toys in the United States because of adverse health effects like birth defects, asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and diabetes, among others.
We recently conducted a study, Hidden Hazards: Toxic Chemicals Inside Children's Vinyl Back-to-School Supplies, which found that a whopping 75 percent of the back-to-school products we studied had higher levels of this toxic chemical than is deemed safe and allowable by law in children's toys. And experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that children are most at risk from exposure to these chemicals.
United States Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) is, and he and I have joined forces to bring this situation to the light.
Why are these chemicals on children's back-to-school products? Because there are currently no restrictions on their use in children's products like school supplies.
So, as part of an effort to provide greater regulatory control over the use of toxic chemicals in children's products, Senator Schumer called on the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to finally approve a list of 'chemicals of concern,' including phthalates, which was then submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA is proposing to classify them as chemicals that present or may present an unreasonable risk to people's health, which could be the first step toward regulation of phthalates by the EPA. The plan has been under review for more than two years at the OMB. To date, OMB has not approved the request.
We also need passage of the Safe Chemicals Act, sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and co-sponsored by Senator Schumer, which would require all chemicals to be evaluated for safety. The legislation would give the EPA new authority to test and restrict the use of chemicals that cannot be proven safe by manufacturers.
Our study found that elevated levels of toxic phthalates were widespread in children's lunchboxes, backpacks, and three-ring binders, including Disney and Spider-Man lunchboxes and backpacks. The study tested 20 popular children's back-to-school products and analyzed for phthalates and heavy metals. Four children's lunchboxes, four children's backpacks, four three-ring binders, four pairs of children's rainboots, and four children's raincoats were purchased and tested. All products were purchased in New York City during the 2012 "back-to-school" shopping season at dollar stores and other retailers. Laboratory tests were conducted by Paradigm Environmental Services in Rochester, NY.
Some results from the study:
- The Dora the Explorer Backpack contained phthalate levels over 69 times the allowable federal limit for toys.
- The Amazing Spider Man Backpack contained phthalate levels over 52 times the allowable federal limit for toys.
- The Disney Princess Lunchbox contained phthalate levels over 29 times the allowable federal limit for toys.
- The Smart Fit Kids Pink Rainboot contained phthalates levels over 20 times the allowable federal limit for toys.
- The Brown Polka Dot/Hot Chocolate 1" Hard Binder contained phthalate levels over 11 times the allowable federal limit for toys.
Back-to-school season has offered some businesses another opportunity to further expose our children to harmful chemicals. It's outrageous! But we can do something about it.
Make sure your Back-To-School Gear is Safe: The CHEJ report, showing which common back-to-school vinyl products contain phthalates, can help you can take necessary steps to protect our families from harmful chemicals. The more we know, the smarter choices we can make. You can also check out the Back-to-School Guide to PVC-free School Supplies, to find safer school supplies in over 40 product categories.
It's time for Congress to move forward and pass the Safe Chemicals Act to protect our children and schools from toxic exposure. Urge Your Representatives to pass The Safe Chemicals Act!
Mike Schade is the Markets Campaign Coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), a national environmental health organization. Mike has over a decade of experience working on environmental health and justice issues. He is the author or co-author of numerous reports including: Baby's Toxic Bottle-BPA Leaching From Popular Baby Bottles, No Silver Lining-An Investigation Into BPA in Canned Foods, and Toxic Toys R Us.
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