School SuppliesNew School Year, New Concerns: Tackling Toxins in Back-to-School Supplies

August 16, 20230

The back-to-school season brings excitement to both kids and parents. The anticipation of reconnecting with classmates and teachers adds to the thrill, with enjoyable preparation through supply shopping. However, a concerning aspect emerges– a significant portion of school items contain hazardous chemicals like PFAs and phthalates. Research indicates that prolonged exposure to these toxins can lead to serious health issues such as cancer, birth defects, infertility, and ADHD. So before you think about buying that unicorn pencil case for your daughter, make sure to do your research.

Due to their ongoing physical development, children are more susceptible to environmental hazards compared to adults. Their higher consumption of water, food, and air increases their exposure risk. Children can be contaminated through skin contact, inhalation, and ingestion, leading to significant health risks.

What are PFAs?

Polyfluoroalkyl substances, often referred to as PFAs or “forever chemicals,” are commonly found in products designed to be waterproof and stain-resistant. Items labeled as water or stain resistant frequently incorporate PFAs, including:

  • Raincoats
  • Stain-resistant uniforms
  • Backpacks
  • Lunch boxes
  • Water bottles
  • Shoes

What are phthalates? 

Phthalates are a group of chemicals utilized to soften and enhance the durability of vinyl plastic. They are present in various back-to-school supplies, including:

  • Pencil cases
  • Puffy stickers
  • Backpacks
  • Lunch boxes
  • Binders

How can I protect my child from PFAs and phthalates? 

Identifying the presence of PFAs and phthalates can be complex, as not all products disclose their usage. It’s best to avoid items labeled as grease-, stain-, or water-resistant, as they may contain these harmful chemicals. It’s important to note that some products promoted as toxin-free could potentially include hazardous substances. Another way to reduce exposure is to:

  • Filter your drinking water with NSF-certified filters for PFOA/PFOS 
  • Avoid takeout food packaged in grease-resistant containers, such as pizza boxes and burger and french fry wrappers

As we gear up for the back-to-school buzz, it’s essential for parents and other caregivers to stay on top of the potential hazards hiding in school supplies. Understanding the presence of PFAs and phthalates and their associated health risks encourages us to make informed choices that prioritize the well-being of our children. By advocating for safer alternatives and seeking reliable sources of information, we can work collectively to ensure a healthier and more secure learning environment for the next generation.