Backpack Blues

Healthy Child, Healthy World

Kids’ school supplies containing vinyl—including backpacks, lunchboxes, three-ring binders, raincoats and rainboots—have been found in many cases to contain toxic levels of phthalates, chemicals known to cause harm to human health that have been banned from children’s toys since 2008. The organization Healthy Child, Healthy World tested 20 back-to-school products including a Dora, Spider Man and Brave backpack. Most of the backpacks they examined had multiple phthalates—chemicals used to soften plastic that are known hormone-disruptors and have been linked to “birth defects, infertility, early puberty, asthma, ADHA, obesity, diabetes, and cancer” as well as to autism. The levels of phthalates they found were well in excess of federal limits.

They report that “the Amazing Spider Man Backpack contained an estimated 52,700 parts per million and 14,900 ppm of DEHP [one type of phthalate] in two different locations. If this product were a children’s toy, it would be over 52 times the limit set by the federal ban.” Meanwhile, a Disney princess lunchbox, with 29,800 ppm of DEHP, would be over 29 times the federal limit if it were a toy.

The study indicates that bans pertaining only to toys do not do enough to protect kids from these potentially dangerous chemical exposures. Children are uniquely vulnerable to phthalate exposure according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, in part because of mouthing objects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency writes that: “The 1999‐2000 and 2001‐2002 biomonitoring data in the Third National Report on Human Exposure to

Environmental Chemicals demonstrate that children have the highest exposures to phthalates of all groups monitored, and other biomonitoring data indicate in utero exposures to phthalates.”

Healthy Child Healthy World called on parents to seek out non-PVC/vinyl school supplies, and provide a guide to help them choose safer products that includes backpacks, lunchboxes, binders, art supplies and electronics. They are also calling for government and industry to phase out the use to phthalates, keep the public informed of this phase-out and label products more clearly so parents can easily identify those containing phthalates and vinyl. They also call for warning labels on phthalate-contining products, and more broadly for support of the Safe Chemicals Act which would “improve the safety of chemicals used in consumer products, increase public information on chemical safety, protect our most vulnerable populations and disproportionately affected “hot spot” communities, reform EPA’s science practices to ensure the best available science is being used to determine chemical safety, and support innovation in the marketplace and provide incentives for the development of safer chemical alternatives.”

The legislation would update the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act and it passed the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee in July, making it eligible for a vote by the full Senate.