High levels of toxic phthalates, which are banned in toys and are associated with birth defects, ADHD, obesity, behavioral problems and asthma, have been found in 75% of children’s back-to-school supplies, a new report issued by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, the Empire State Consumer Project, and Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). School supplies were tested in a laboratory, and even seemingly harmless products, such as Dora, Spiderman and Disney branded lunchboxes, rainboots, raincoats, backpacks, and 3-ring binders were found to have elevated levels of phthalates.

There is serious concern about the long-term consequences for children’s health. These toxins are banned from usage in children’s toys, and many wonder why they have been allowed in other kids’ products.

The new report, authored by Mike Schade, is titled “Hidden Hazards: Toxic Chemicals Inside Children’s Vinyl Back-to-School Supplies”.

Schade said:

“Our investigation found elevated levels of toxic phthalates widespread in children’s school supplies, including Disney and Spider-Man lunchboxes and backpacks. 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.”

Judy Braiman, from the Empire State Consumer Project, said “It is disturbing that millions of young children are being exposed to these toxic chemicals with no enforcement to protect them.”

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), who was present when the report was released, said:

“School supplies are supposed to help our children with their education, they shouldn’t be harming their health. 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 anything other than a nutritious meal, packed by mom.”

In a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget, Schumer stressed the importance of classifying phthalates as “chemicals that present or may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.” Schumer co-sponsors the Safe Chemicals Act.

Robert Jackson, a Council Member and Chair of the Education Committee said that as parents, family members of schoolchildren, and teachers, we cannot go on allowing dangerous chemicals to contaminate our children’s school supplies. He added that phthalates have been linked to serious chronic diseases and conditions, including cancer, obesity and asthma.

Sue Rau, from the New York State Teacher Association, said that her organization hopes this report may trigger new legislation banning or at least considerably reducing the use of toxic chemicals in children’s school supplies. She added that her association urges parents and guardians of children to buy only phthalate-free products. Rau urges parents to read the “Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies” which CHEJ (Center for Health, Environment & Justice) has released.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals commonly used to make plastic and vinyl softer and more flexible. Today phthalates are used in thousands of consumer goods, such as cosmetics, personal care products (nail polish, skin moisturizers, hair spray, shampoo and soap), shower curtains, food packaging, plastic wraps, etc. Phthalates are also used in plastic plumbing pipes, lubricants, solvents, insecticides, building material, vinyl flooring, and medical tubing.

It is difficult to avoid exposure to phthalates, because they are literally everywhere.

According to the National Library of Medicine, at the National Institutes of Health, we do not really know what effects phthalates might have on human health. Several government agencies, including the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), the NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) and the National Toxicology Program’s Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction are currently evaluating the affects of phthalates on human health.

The National Toxicology Program, in its 12th Report on Carcinogens, listed Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences stated that at current levels of seven phthalates studied in the USA, the potential impact on human reproductive health is “minimal”. The National Toxicology Program, on the other hand, concluded that elevated levels of di-n-butyl phthalate may undermine human reproduction or development.

Studies have indicated that elevated levels of exposure to di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate may harm a male’s reproductive system during development, says the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Researchers from the Children’s Environmental Health Center at The Mount Sinai Medical Center reported in the journal Environmental Research that there is a link between childhood obesity and exposure to phthalates.

Un-masculine behavior in boys – scientists from the University of Rochester Medical Center found that pregnant mothers with high urine phthalate levels had a higher risk of giving birth to boys who were not keen on boyish type activities, such as playing with masculine toys, or play fighting.

Phthalates may hinder mental and motor development – describing them as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found a link between phthalate exposure and behavioral problems in 3 year-old children, which may be due to alterations in the developing brain.

Phthalates and ADHD Symptoms – South Korean scientists published a report in Biological Psychiatry in 2009 where they found a “significant positive association between phthalate exposure and ADHD“. They measured children’s phthalate urine levels and found that concentration levels correlated with ADHD severity of symptoms.

Pediatric neurologist, Dr Maya Shetreat-Klein, Assistant Clinical Professor of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said:

“Phthalates are chemicals that have been linked to asthma, ADHD, and other chronic health problems in children. This new report has now shown that many common products specifically intended for children have high levels of phthalates.

It is imperative that parents are educated about how to protect their children by buying safer PVC-free school supplies, and that our lawmakers pass legislation to protect children from the long-term health effects of phthalate toxicity.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist