Monday, May 16, 2011

Toxic watchdog urges consumers to be wary of unsafe school supplies

As parents prepare their shopping lists of “must have” items in time for the resumption of classes, a toxic watchdog today advised shoppers to be careful with school supplies that can leach harmful substances.

The EcoWaste Coalition, a group promoting chemical safety awareness and action, specifically suggested to back-to-school shoppers to abstain from buying goods made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), also known as vinyl or plastic number “3”.

“PVC products are loaded with many additives that can transfer into the environment, posing chemical risks to humans, especially to young children, and, as a precautionary measure, must be avoided,” said Thony Dizon, coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT (People Responding and Organizing against Toxic Chemical Threats).

“One of the additives of concern is a family of industrial chemicals called phthalates, which are added to PVC plastics to make them softer, more flexible and durable,” he pointed out.

“To minimize children’s exposure to chemical poisons in school supplies, we urge parents to assert their lawful rights as consumers to demand for complete product information and for safe products without hazardous contents such as phthalates,” he said.

Dizon recalled that five common school supplies bought by the EcoWaste Coalition in May 2010 and sent to Taiwan for laboratory analysis were found to contain high levels of di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate or DEHP, a suspected human carcinogen.

Found to contain elevated levels of DEHP were a green long plastic envelope (19.881 percent DEHP), a PVC plastic book cover (18.997 percent DEHP), a PVC notebook cover (18.543 percent DEHP), a PVC plastic lunch bag and a PVC bagpack (both with 17.120 percent DEHP).

As per US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, the limit for DEHP and five other phthalates is 0.1% of any children’s product for ages 12 and under.

The EcoWaste Coalition’s toxic findings prompted then Education Secretary Mona Valisno to promise a probe on the toxic contents of school supplies.

“We are not sure if the Department of Education was able to conduct its own investigation as promised by then Secretary Valisno. If they did, we request them to publicize their findings,” Dizon said.

Numerous studies in animals and humans have linked phthalates to serious ailments such as endocrine disorders, reproductive abnormalities, asthma, kidney damage and liver cancer, causing the European Union in 2005 and the United States in 2008 to take action by prohibiting six types of phthalates in children’s toys and products.

To prevent children’s exposure to phthalates, the EcoWaste Coalition has adopted the following tips for avoiding PVC school supplies from the US-based Center for Health, Environment and Justice:

1. Art Supplies: Avoid modeling polymer clays made of PVC .

2. Backpacks: Avoid backpacks with shiny plastic designs as they often contain PVC and may contain lead.

3. Clothing and Accessories: Look for PVC-free materials in rainwear (i.e. rain boots and raincoats), prints on clothing, and accessories such as handbags, jewelry and belts.

4. Food Wrap: Use PVC-free butcher paper, waxed paper, parchment paper, low density polyethylene (LDPE) or cellulose bags.

5. Lunchboxes: Avoid plastic lunch boxes that are made of or line with PVC. Use cloth lunch bags or metal lunchboxes.

6. Utensils and Dishware: Use stainless steel utensils.

7. Notebooks: Avoid notebooks containing metal spirals encased in colored plastic. The colored plastic coating on the metal spirals usually contains PVC. Select notebooks with uncovered metal spirals to avoid PVC.

8. Organizers and Address Books: Choose organizers/ address books made with sustainably harvested wood, metal, or paper covers. Avoid those made of plastic – these sometimes contain PVC.

9. Packaging of School Supplies: Avoid single-use disposable packaging, or those marked PVC or plastic number 3, whenever possible. Avoid products packaged in unlabeled plastics, such as clamshells and blister packs, which may contain PVC. Choose products with packaging made from more easily recycled materials like paper or cardboard.

10. Paperclips: Stick to the plain metal paperclips. Colored paper clips are coated with PVC.

11. Three-Ring Binders: Use cardboard, fabric-covered, or polypropylene binders. Most 3-ring binders are made of PVC.

12. Umbrellas: Avoid shiny and colorful plastic umbrellas as these are typically made out of PVC. Look for those made out of other materials such as nylon.


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