A recent study conducted by U.S. PIRG Education Fund has revealed that some of the most commonly purchased school supplies may pose health hazards to children.
School supplies such as crayons, binders, and markers were found to contain toxic chemicals. Dangerous chemicals including asbestos, phthalates, BTEX compounds, and lead were found in school supplies tested during the study.
Each year, Americans spend billions of dollars on ‘Back to School’ shopping. Purchasing school supplies is far from voluntary, as nearly every school sends parents a supply list at the end of each summer. These supply lists seem to be growing and growing each year, as federal budget cuts force teachers to rely on parents to provide all needed classroom supplies.
Ten years ago, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act placed stricter regulations on children’s art-related products. The use of some harmful chemicals was banned, but the responsibility of testing supplies was put on the product manufacturers. This act, and others similar to it have fallen short of protecting consumers. In 2015, five different crayon varieties shipped from overseas were found to contain asbestos.
There is a notable disparity between what research has found to be concerning and what the Food and Drug Administration deems to be dangerous. This poses a major obstacle to chemical regulation. Any amount of asbestos is labeled hazardous by the FDA, but other chemicals are not acknowledged as dangerous in small amounts—despite evidence to the contrary.
The following products were tested by U.S. PIRG Education Fund and were found to contain varying levels of toxic chemicals:
- Crayons: Six brands of crayons were tested and found to contain asbestos. One brand, Playskool crayons, tested positive for tremolite. Tremolite is a type of asbestos that has been linked to lung cancer and mesothelioma. The Playskool crayons were purchased from Dollar Tree.
- 3-ring binders: Of the three different binders that were tested, one brand was found to contain phthalates. The Jot blue binder, purchased at Dollar Tree, contained a concerning amount of the toxic material. Exposure to phthalates can affect the male reproductive system and cause the onset of early puberty. Asthma, low IQ, and childhood obesity have all been linked to phthalate exposure in crucial developmental years.
- Water bottles: While the two water bottles examined in the study proved to be lead-free, there are two water bottles that have previously been recalled for containing lead. They are the Base Brands Children’s Reduce Hydro Pro Furry Friends bottle (Costco and Amazon) and the GSI Outdoors Children’s Bottle (L.L. Bean).
- Markers: Two brands of washable markers were tested in the study and found to be free of BTEX compounds. However, two dry-erase markers tested positive. BTEX compounds are proven endocrine disruptors. They have been linked to issues with reproduction, as well as liver and kidney functioning. One of the chemicals in BTEX compounds, benzene, is classified as a carcinogen (cancer-causing substance).
Among other supplies tested were glue sticks and liquid glue, spiral notebooks, and rulers. All of these supplies were found to be free of lead and phthalates.
Not all school supplies contain worrisome ingredients. There are some safer alternatives to look for, many of which are at a comparable price point to the unsafe products. Some safe school supply alternatives include:
- Crayola crayons (24 pack) available at CVS Pharmacy and other retailers.
- Up & Up classic colors crayons distributed by Target.
- Cra-Z-Art crayons (24 pack) available at Party City.
- Crayola markers (10 pack) available at Walgreens and other retailers.
- Jot fine line assorted markers (20 pack) from Dollar Tree.
- Avery 1-inch, 3-ring binders (white) from Target.
- Yoobi 1-inch, D-rings binder (pink) from Target.
If you are a parent who has recently purchased back to school supplies, you may want to take a second look to ensure your supplies are safe.