Just as school is about to get back in session, some concerning news has surfaced about common school supplies. Asbestos and other developmental toxins were found in crayons, 3-ring binders, and dry erase markers. As parents are scrambling to purchase school supplies before school gets back into session, they are now faced with the extra stress of trying to find supplies that are not contaminated with toxins and hormone disrupting chemicals. You’ve trusted Mamavation to cover important topics like toxic target register receipts, 12 reasons to ditch plastic cooking utensils, and non-toxic and eco-friendly school supplies, now join us as we help uncover a dirty secret that was right under our noses — hidden highly toxic chemicals in children’s school supplies.
School supplies are a necessity for almost every parent in the United States. In 2017 alone, we spent $27 billion on back to school shopping. And as parents, most of us feel it’s our right to expect manufacturers to be cognizant of the need for product safety. We want them to make products that won’t poison, damage or kill us, especially when it comes to our kids. And with our hectic lives, it’s easy to fall into the assumption that products made for children are automatically safe, but that simply isn’t the case. In fact, recent lab testing conducted on a category of common kids products revealed alarming results that every parent should know about.
Independent Testing of Common School Supplies
Regulations on the safety of school supplies has been toughened over the years. The Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act of 1990 mandated that all art supplies with hazardous chronic effects must have a warning label. Hmm, not that great. Then in 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was passed, tightening regulations on children’s art materials and banning the use of some hazardous chemicals. Better, but not awesome. As recently as 2015, the Environmental Working Group tested a wide variety of chemicals, finding asbestos in five different imported crayon brands and extremely high levels of phthalates in other common school supplies, especially those made with PVC.
In August 2018, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund sent 27 school supplies to an independent laboratory to test for chemicals of concern. The supplies they tested were purchased from a variety of stores across the country including big box stores, dollar stores, drug stores, online retailers, and arts and crafts stores for a better sampling of available products and more relevant results. They tested for the presence of highly hazardous chemicals including lead, asbestos, phthalates, BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene), and bisphenol-a (BPA). All of these chemicals are harmful to humans and have the ability to enter the body by migrating from the product and onto the skin or off-gassing into the air and inhaled into the lungs.
U.S. PIRG Lab Test Results Indicates Toxic School Supplies From Popular Brands
You can find complete testing results in the full U.S. PIRG report, but we’ve highlighted and condensed the major discoveries below.
- Six types of crayons were tested for the presence of asbestos. Playskool crayons (36 count) from Dollar Tree tested positive for tremolite, one of the six types of asbestos. Tremolite is a less common form of asbestos, but is needle-shaped and more likely to damage lung tissue. Asbestos is a well known carcinogen that can cause pulmonary fibrosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma which is a malignant asbestos disease that affects the protective lining of organs including the lungs, heart and intestines. (My father died of Mesotheiloma so this is NO laughing matter.)
- Three 3-ring binders were tested for the presence of phthalates. A Jot-brand blue binder from Dollar Tree tested positive and contained 240,000 parts per million (ppm) DEHP (diethylhexyl phthalate), and 8,000 ppm DINP (diisononyl phthalate). Studies have linked phthalates to endocrine disruption, asthma, childhood obesity and lower IQ scores. In fact, the Washington Post reported on a study that linked phthalates and endocrine disruptors to a 6 point drop in IQ in children whose mothers were exposed to phthalates during pregnancy And just as concerning, some phthalates are considered obesogens which means they can cause you to gain weight regardless of your diet and exercise routine. The Journal of Cellular Biochemistry also published a study that shows phthalates can induce DNA damage that leads to bone cell death in mouse cells which would have obvious negative affects on bone formation, remodeling, and long-term bone health in humans.
- Two types of dry-erase markers were tested for the presence of BTEX compounds, both with positive results. The Board Dudes 6 magnetic dry erase markers and EXPO dry-erase markers with scented ink tested positive for a combination of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. BTEX compounds are one of the main categories of chemicals formed in the manufacturing of household plastics (think plastic cooking utensils), and it contains a mix of chemicals including hazardous phthalates. Also known carcinogens, and it’s been shown that rates of non-Hodkin lymphoma are higher around factories that release benzene. BTEX exposure can also come from car exhaust, gasoline fumes, tobacco smoke, paint products, nail polish and is responsible for endocrine disruption and sexual disruption, liver and kidney malfunction and immune system impairment.
It’s also important to note that two water bottles reviewed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have been recalled for high levels of lead: Base Brands Children’s Reduce Hydro Pro Furry Friends water bottle, sold at Costco and Amazon, and GSI Outdoors Children’s Water Bottles, sold at L.L. Bean. Fortunately, the two water bottles tested by the U.S. PIRG were both negative for the presence of lead.
Steps to Fixing the Problem of Dangerous School Supplies
It’s jarring to realize that something as innocuous as school supplies, things our kids use all the time, are tainted with seriously toxic chemicals and ingredients. But at the same time, we’re lucky to have this information because with information comes empowerment, and we can use this to our advantage and to demand change.
- Demand that brands and retailers address the products that tested positive for dangerous chemicals.
- Dollar Tree (877.530.8733) and Playskool (800.752.9755) need to recall the asbestos-tainted crayons and remove them from store shelves.
- Dollar Tree and Jot need to recall the 3-ring binder that contained high levels of phthalates and remove them from store shelves.
- The Board Dudes (800.524.8697) and Amazon (888.280.4331) need to recall the dry-erase markers that contain BTEX compounds and remove them from store shelves.
- EXPO (800.346.3278) needs to recall the dry-erase markers that contain BTEX compounds and remove them from store shelves.
- Policymakers should maintain the CPSC’s funding and authorities to protect the public and mandate the CPSC to regularly test more children’s products for toxic chemicals.
- Parents and teachers should look for the AP label posted on items by the Art & Creative Materials Institute (“ACMI”). For items not certified by the ACMI, parents should look for a manufacturer’s label certifying that the product meets CPSC guidelines for children.
- Parents should demand that manufacturers without a label start carrying a label, and that the products meet the safety guidelines.