Back-to-School Shopping Guide for School Supplies released

Lab results show many supplies safe, but some contain asbestos, lead and other hazardous chemicals

Many parents and teachers shopping for their students' 2018-19 school supplies look for a "non-toxic" label on the products, but many products don't have that label. U.S. PIRG Education Fund is releasing a guide that advises consumers which products are actually non-toxic and which to avoid. This guide is being released alongside a back to school toolkit created by the Coalition for Healthier Schools.

"This fall, parents and teachers can use our safe shopping guide to help them purchase school supplies," said Dev Gowda, campaign director of U.S. PIRG Education Fund's Campaign for Toxic-Free Products. "We should feel safe knowing we're sending our kids off to school with supplies that don't contain toxic chemicals."U.S. PIRG Education Fund tested dozens of school supplies including markers, crayons, dry erase markers, glue, 3-ring binders, spiral notebooks, lunchboxes and water bottles. We found several supplies containing asbestos, lead, benzene and other dangerous chemicals. The "Safer School Supplies: Shopping Guide" warns consumers about those specific products, and offers suggestions for safer alternatives.Out of the dozens of products that we tested, most did not contain toxic chemicals. However, our tests and investigation found the following:

  • Trace amounts of asbestos in Playskool crayons sold at Dollar Tree. Asbestos, which can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, has recently been found in other children's products, such as makeup.
  • Lead in recently-recalled children's water bottles (Base Brands children's Reduce Hydro Pro Furry Friends water bottle, once sold by Costco, and GSI Outdoors children's water bottle, once sold by L.L. Bean). The Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled both of these items because they contained high levels of lead. Lead can cause severe developmental and behavioral problems.
  • Phthalates in Jot brand blue 3-ring binder. The levels of phthalates in the binder is considered unsafe for children by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. High levels of phthalates can lead to birth defects, hyperactivity, and reproductive problems.
  • Benzene in Board Dudes brand markers. Benzene is a known carcinogen linked to leukemia, and disruptions in sexual reproduction and liver, kidney and immune system function. 

"Based on our testing, we know that most manufacturers make safe school supplies. We're calling on the makers of unsafe products to get rid of toxic chemicals and protect American schoolchildren," said Kara Cook-Schultz, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Toxics Director.

Given that it is often legal to sell products containing toxic substances, parents buying glue, markers, pencils, rulers, and crayons can look for the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) "AP" labelwhich lets consumers know that the product is non-toxic for children. For products like water bottles and lunchboxes where there is no AP label offered, look for a manufacturer's "children's product certificate" on the product, which assures parents that the product has been tested in a third-party laboratory under specifications set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

If neither of those labels is on the product, parents can reach out to the manufacturers and ask that they start using AP certification, or that they meet the requirements needed for a children's product certificate.

"The safest schools are healthy schools," said Coalition for Healthier Schools Coordinator and Healthy Schools Network Founder and Executive Director Claire Barnett.  "As children across the country get ready to return for the new semester, the national Coalition is urging parents to join us in this fight." "School business officials understand that school infrastructure issues are inextricably linked to student health, well-being, and academic success. Without safe and healthy school environments, students cannot learn. We urge local, state, and federal lawmakers to work with district leaders to invest in school infrastructure so that we can work together to repair, renovate, maintain, and construct the facilities our children need to grow and thrive," said John Musso, CAE, RSBA, Executive Director of ASBO International.


Access the full safe shopping guide, including names of stores selling the safer products
Source: United States Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) Education Fund