Monday, September 24, 2012

PVC in School Supplies

A report published last month provides yet another reminder of why we should avoid products made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) in every instance--especially products used by our children.

PVC is damaging to the environment and our health at every stage of its life cycle. A variety of toxic substances are used, created and released during its manufacture, use and disposal. Lead and other heavy metals are added during production. Dioxins, highly toxic and persistent pollutants, are generated as a by-product. Additives, including phthalates, are added before it is molded into final products, including children's products, such as vinyl school supplies and rainwear.

Phthalates are plasticizers used to soften PVC. Several phthalates have been determined to be probable human carcinogens. Exposure to phthalates has been associated with adverse reproductive outcomes in humans, including changes in fetal reproductive development. They are pervasive in the environment, making their way into the food chain. They are also pervasive in our bodies; the CDC has found that phthalate exposure is widespread in the U.S. population.

The environmental health advocacy group, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), issued the report. They tested children's vinyl school supplies, including backpacks, lunchboxes and 3-ring binders, as well as raincoats and rainboots.  These included Disney, Spiderman and Dora branded products. 75% of the products tested contained elevated levels of phthalates. The levels found would be unlawful if the products were toys. However, no laws cover permissible levels in products such as school supplies and raingear. 65% of the products tested contained elevated levels of the phthalate DEHP, classified by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen. These phthalates are not chemically bound to the vinyl; they therefore can be released from the products, potentially exposing children to elevated levels of these dangerous substances.

Avoid vinyl school supplies, and all other vinyl products, such as shower curtains, miniblinds, wallpaper, flooring, raingear and garden hoses, as much as possible. Vinyl products are not always labeled as such, but may be labeled as "vinyl" or "PVC." Also avoid vinyl packaging--look for the number "3" in the recycling symbol, or the letters "V" or "PVC" underneath.

Finally, the CHEJ offers a comprehensive guide to PVC-free school supplies (go here for link to the PDF). The guide includes tips for avoiding PVC school supplies, as well as a spreadsheet of companies that offer PVC-free products.

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