A new study has found that children's school supplies contain toxins known for causing health problems and birth defects. Of the supplies that were lab tested, 80% had elevated levels of phthalates, including products from some of the most popular brands, like Disney. The products, purchased in New York during a back-to-school time period, included vinyl lunchboxes, backpacks, 3-ring binders, and raincoats. The amount of phthalates found was seven times greater than the acceptable limit.
Phthalates are frequently used to soften plastic. They are also hormone disrupters that are hazardous even at low levels. Besides birth defects, pthalates have been linked to early puberty, infertility, asthma, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. Phthalates are capable of migrating from their original source. That means that due to phthalates' widespread use, they have been found in the air and dust in both home and school environments, and have even been found in breast milk. Children are the age group most widely exposed.
For the study, researchers examined 20 products total for evidence of six phthalates and four heavy metals. All products came from well-known stores, including Kmart and Payless. The product testing occurred at Paradigm Environmental Services in Rochester, New York. Researchers there found that of the products containing phthalates, 75% contained enough that the supplies would be banned if they were toys. More than half of the supplies tested (55%) contained multiple phthalates. Nowhere on the product label were phthalates listed. In addition to phthalates, 40% of school supplies contained heavy metals.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has expressed concern about phthalates' effect on children. The EPA has already determined that there is an association between phthalate exposure and human health. Furthermore, the EPA found that phthalate exposure during fetal development has resulted in certain male animal fetuses developing birth defects. Yet it is unclear what the long-term effects of phthalate exposure will yield. If your child uses school supplies filled with phthalates that can migrate to other surfaces, potentially everyone could get exposed to high levels of phthalates.
Yet if you were pregnant during this exposure, and later had another child with a birth defect, could you successfully sue the supplies' manufacturers? Possibly not. The only way you would be successful is if you established a strong correlation between your exposure to the supplies and your child's birth defect. Yet it is not clear how much exposure needs to take place, or when, in order for the effects to be felt. You would also need to establish that it was the school supplies -- and not one of countless other sources of phthalates to which you were exposed over the years -- that were the problem. If you are able to establish such a correlation, then you would have some strong evidence to back up your case. However, the unfortunate truth is that these days, phthalates are everywhere and could come from just about every product we use.