According to a new consumer report, children's back-to -school supplies have chemicals that have been linked to asthma and birth defects.

High levels of phthalates were found in vinyl backpacks, rain boots, raincoats, lunch boxes and 3-ring binders. Popular branded school supplies including Disney, Dora and Spiderman had elevated levels of phthalates.

According to the report, 80 percent of children's back to school supplies contained phthalates and about 75 percent contained levels of phthalates that would have been considered a violation of federal law if these supplies were treated as toys.

One product, the Amazing Spiderman Lunchbox, contained an estimated 27,900 parts per million (ppm) of the phthalate DEHP which is 27 times more phthalate than what is allowed in toys.

"Our investigation found elevated levels of toxic phthalates widespread in children's school supplies, including Disney and Spider-Man lunchboxes and backpacks. These dangerous chemicals manufactured by Exxon Mobil have no place in our children's school supplies," said Mike Schade, Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) author of the new report, Hidden Hazards: Toxic Chemicals Inside Children's Vinyl Back-to-School Supplies.

"Unfortunately, while phthalates have been banned in children's toys, similar safeguards don't yet exist to keep them out of lunchboxes, backpacks and other children's school supplies. It's time for Congress to move forward and pass the Safe Chemicals Act to protect our children from toxic exposure," said Schade in a press release.

Phthalates are used in a variety of things like soaps, shampoos, building materials plastic toys etc. Previous research has shown that exposure to phthalates is common in infants. Phthalates are also known to disrupt the human hormonal system and reproduction system. Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, is used extensively because it is flexible and stable. This flexibility is achieved by the use of plasticizers like phthalates, diesters of phthalates and phthalic acids. Previous research has shown that exposure to phthalates can cause asthma.

In the present study, 20 back-to-school supplies available at various store in the New York City area were tested for the presence of phthalates. Researchers at Paradigm Environmental Services tested multiple components of the same products for the presence of 6 phthalates and heavy metals. The phthalates measured were Diethyl phthalate (DEP), Dimethyl phthalate (DMP), Di‐n‐butyl phthalate (DBP), Bis (2‐ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), Butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP) and Di‐n‐octyl phthalate (DnOP).

"This report highlights the fact that parents can't assume that a product is safe for their kids simply because it's on a store shelf. Nothing could be further from the truth. We need comprehensive laws that make sure chemicals are safe," said Kathy Curtis, Executive Director, Clean and Healthy New York, in a press release.

The report recommends that parents must

  • Always buy products that do not contain vinyl
  • Check for universal recycling symbol. If the product has been labeled as V or PVC, then avoid the product.
  • If you are unsure if the product has vinyl then email or call the 1-800 number of the manufacturer or the retailer and ask them about the material used in the product.