Thursday, August 22, 2013

Go Back to School with Safer Supplies

Parents and care givers are growing more concerned about the chemicals in products that may affect their children’s health.  As a place to start, we can make safer choices about what we provide our kids with for school.

One of the biggest chemical concerns in school supplies is a type of plastic made out of polyvinyl chloride or PVC.  According to the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, “PVC is unique among most plastics because it contains dangerous chemical additives such as phthalates, lead, cadmium and/or organotin, which can be toxic to your child’s health.”  Many of these chemicals have known health concerns or are considered chemicals of emerging concern.  Tests have shown that these chemicals can leach out of products over time and are linked to asthma, learning disabilities, obesity and other chronic health concerns. Avoid products that are labeled, “vinyl” or have a number three inside of the recycling arrow.  Number 3 plastics are made from PVC.

The good news is that once you know what to look for, finding safer school supplies can be easy. 

For any school supplies, if there are non-plastic options such as cloth art smocks and non-coated, plain metal paper clips to choose from, that is a good place to start.

  • Avoid lunchboxes that are shiny plastic or have shiny plastic characters because those are usually made from vinyl.  They may contain lead and unwrapped food should never be placed in them.  
  • Safer options: A re-useable cloth bag or light-weight stainless steel bento boxes, canisters, thermoses, and water bottles work great for lunch packing.  They are non-breakable, clean up well and don’t have the same health concerns as plastics.
  •  Safety Tip: Never microwave or wash plastics in the dishwasher, even if they claim to be microwavable and dishwasher safe.  Even storing hot or warm food in plastic containers has been shown to leach chemicals into the food.

  •  Safer Options: Fabric-covered and sturdy cardboard binders are two choices that are available at most stores.  Plastics other than PVC such as polypropelene are less-likely to leach chemicals and they usually say, PVC-free on the label.

  • Avoid bags with shiny plastic decals.  The shiny plastic is PVC and may contain lead.  Remember that lead is a well-known neurotoxin and doesn’t belong in our children’s supplies!
  • Safer options: Bags without any plastic or shiny additions. A plain canvas backpack never goes out of style!

Start the new school year off right by choosing safer supplies to send your little (or big) one off safely.  For more information on safer school supplies The Center for Health, Environment and Justice has a Back to School Guide or see Thurston County Environmental Health’s web page on plastics.  A Thurston County Environmental Health Educator is always happy to answer questions at (360) 867-2674.  The TDD line is (360) 867-2603.

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