GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. -- Parents can now add one more worry to their back-to-school frenzy - shopping for chemical free school supplies, according to a Minnesota coalition.
Healthy Legacy partnered with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice to test school supplies, from notebooks to backpacks and lunchboxes, and found that some of those supplies contain toxic chemicals known as PVC and phthalates.
"Some of the chemicals connected to phthalates and PVC can cause asthma and contribute to learning and developmental disabilities. That is really what I am concerned about is the effects on our brain development," said Martha Moriarity, of Learning Disabilities Association in Golden Valley, and part of the Healthy Legacy coalition.
PVC and phthalates make plastics softer and more pliable, and are banned in toys because they are known to be endocrine disruptors. Healthy Legacy says the class of chemicals has been linked to birth defects, ADHD, cancer and obesity.
Still, the report found PVC widespread in vinyl covered school supplies.
Researchers at an independent laboratory tested 20 products and found phthalates in the majority - 80 percent - of the supplies, and found 75 percent of the supplies in violation of the federal phthalate limit Congress set in 2008.
The most surprising results show a Spiderman lunchbox containing 27 times the phthalate limit for toys, a Disney princess lunchbox tested at 29 times the limit of toys, Spiderman backpack tested at 52 times that limit, and a Dora backpack - 69 times the federal limit set by the ban. All the products were purchased in New York City, but Healthy Legacy says their advocates purchased many of the same products at a Minnesota Kmart.
"It's just not regulated in these products yet our kids touch these products every day," said Moriarity.
For Moriarity it's more than a risk, it's a cause close to her heart. Her daughter is about to begin third grade at a Minneapolis school, and is beginning the year with a new nylon backpack and a majority of plastic free supplies.
"Backpacks are surprising to most people you don't think of it of having any sort of vinyl on it," said Moriarity. She believes the problem cannot be solved by shopping choices alone, but needs reform from manufacturing all the way to the marketplace.
Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken are co-sponsoring a federal bill - the Safe Chemicals Act - to improve the safety of chemicals in products. Healthy Legacy is hoping the Senate will spearhead more consumer protection, specifically updating a 36 year old law regulating industrial chemicals.
If you want to keep an eye out for PVC free products, look for cloth lunch bags, cardboard three ring binders, and metal spiraled notebooks. Healthy Legacy also recommends avoiding vinyl or calling the manufacturer to see what is in your children's product.
To learn more: http://www.chej.org/publications/PVCGuide/PVCfree.pdf
You can read the CHEJ report, "Hidden Hazards: Toxic Chemicals Inside Children's Vinyl Back-to-School Supplies," on the organization's website.
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