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Study: High Levels of Toxic Chemicals in Vinyl Back-to-School Supplies

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If your child's backpack or other back-to-school supplies are lined with vinyl, chances are they contain toxic chemicals that can be harmful to children's health. 

A new study released Sunday found that about 75 percent of children's school supplies contain high levels of potentially toxic phthalates. Released by the advocacy group Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), the study found that "the levels of phthalates found in children’s school supplies would be illegal if these products were toys.  Just like toys, school supplies are used by young children that are uniquely vulnerable to chemical exposure."

Phthalates, which are used to soften vinyl plastic, are hazardous at low levels of exposure. They can disrupt hormones in our bodies, and have been linked to birth defects, infertility, early puberty, asthma, ADHD, obesity, diabetes, and cancer.  According to testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children have the highest exposures to these hazardous chemicals.

A brief overview of the study's findings of 20 back-to-school items, including Amazing Spiderman and Dora the Explorer backpacks:

• 80% (16/20) of children’s back to school supplies sampled contained phthalates.   
• The phthalates Bis (2?ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), Di?n?octyl phthalate (DnOP), Dimethyl phthalate (DMP), and Di?n?butyl phthalate (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.

Since the phthalates are not chemically bound to the vinyl, they can migrate from within the products to the surface and be released from the products. Children may be exposed to elevated levels of these toxic substances by using these school supplies.

Plus: Johnson and Johnson to Remove Dangerous Chemicals From All Products

In light of the CHEJ study, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said he would push for the Safe Chemicals Act, a bill co-sponsored by New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg. The act would give the Environmental Protection Agency more authority to regulate chemicals used in consumer products.

"School supplies are supposed to help our children with their education, they shouldn't be harming their health," Schumer said in an emailed press release. 

"We don't allow high levels of these toxic chemicals in children's toys and we certainly shouldn't allow them in back-to-school products. When kids take their lunch to school this fall, they shouldn't be carrying it in a lunchbox laden with toxic chemicals."

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