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New Report From Leading Child Safety Advocates Shows that 75% of Back to School Supplies Sampled Contained Toxic Chemical Phthalates in Excess of Allowable Federal Limits for Toys; Chemical Found in Backpacks, Lunch Boxes and 3-Ring Binders Has Been Linked to Asthma, ADHD, and Diabetes

EPA Action Plan to Include Phthalates on List of Chemicals of Concern Has Been Sitting at OMB for Over 2 years; Schumer Urges OMB to Act Immediately

Schumer: School Supplies Are Supposed to Help Our Children With Their Education, They Shouldn’t Harm Their Health


(New York, NY) United States Senator Charles E. Schumer, joined by advocates from the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), revealed today that many children’s vinyl back-to-school products currently on store shelves contain high levels of toxic chemical phthalates, which are banned for use in toys in the United States because of adverse health effects like birth defects, asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and diabetes, among others. A whopping seventy-five percent of products bought in New York City and tested for the report were found to have higher levels of the toxic chemical than is deemed safe and allowable by law in children’s toys. There are currently no restrictions on their use in other children’s products like school supplies. As part of an effort to provide greater regulatory control over the use of toxic chemicals in children’s products, Schumer called on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to finally approve a list of ‘chemicals of concern,’ including phthalates, submitted by the EPA, which compiles chemical substances that present or may present an unreasonable risk to health. Such action could be the first step toward regulation of phthalates by the EPA. Schumer also urged passage of the Safe Chemicals Act, sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg and co-sponsored by Schumer, which would require all chemicals to be evaluated for safety. The legislation would give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) new authority to test and restrict the use of chemicals that cannot be proven safe by manufacturers, like lunchboxes, backpacks, and three-ring binders.


“School supplies are supposed to help our children with their education, they shouldn’t be harming their health,” said Schumer. “We don’t allow high levels of these toxic chemicals in children’s toys and we certainly shouldn’t allow them in back-to-school products. When kids take their lunch to school this fall, they shouldn’t be carrying it in a lunchbox laden with toxic chemicals.”


“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.  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 and schools from toxic exposure,” says Mike Schade from the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), author of the new report.


The study, Hidden Hazards: Toxic Chemicals Inside Children’s Vinyl Back-to-School Supplies, commissioned by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) and Empire State Consumer Project showed that children’s vinyl “back-to-school” supplies contain elevated levels of phthalates, hazardous chemicals that have been banned in toys, yet remain widespread in vinyl back-to-school supplies.  In fact, 80% of the back to school supplies tested contained phthalates and 75% of the products contained levels of these harmful chemicals that would violate the federal limit for toys. Phthalates are primarily used to soften vinyl plastic. 


Phthalates are a class of chemicals that are hazardous at even low levels of exposure, and have been linked to birth defects, infertility, early puberty, asthma, ADHD, obesity, and diabetes.  According to testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children face the highest exposure to these hazardous chemicals.  As a result of the widespread use of phthalates in vinyl plastic products, they have been found in the air and dust of our homes and schools, and our bodies, blood and breast milk.


The study tested twenty popular children’s back-to-school products and analyzed for phthalates and heavy metals.  Four children’s lunchboxes, four children’s backpacks, four 3-ring binders, four pairs of  children’s rainboots, and four children’s raincoats were purchased and tested.  All products were purchased in New York City during the 2012 “back-to-school” shopping season at dollar stores and other retailers.  Laboratory tests were conducted by Paradigm Environmental Services in Rochester, NY.


Some highlights from the study:


75% of children’s back-to-school supplies tested contained levels of phthalates that would be in violation of federal bans for toys, if these products were considered toys.


The Dora the Explorer Backpack contained phthalate levels over 69 times the allowable federal limit for toys.


The Amazing Spider Man Backpack contained phthalate levels over 52 times the allowable federal limit for toys. 


The Disney Princess Lunchbox contained phthalate levels over 29 times the allowable federal limit for toys.


The Smart Fit Kids Pink Rainboot contained phthalates levels over 20 times the allowable federal limit for toys. 


The Brown Polka Dot/Hot Chocolate 1” Hard Binder contained phthalate levels over 11 times the allowable federal limit for toys.


The Environmental Protection Agency submitted on May 12, 2010 a list of chemicals of concern including phthalates as part of their ‘chemical action plan’ to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that could provide the agency with the authority to more aggressively regulate phthalates, among other toxic chemicals, for use in consumer goods. The chemical action plan that is under review for over two years at OMB lists and identifies “chemicals of concern,” that include phthalates, like those found in the CHEJ report on children’s school supplies, and have been studied and reported to be hazardous to human health. To date, OMB has not approved the rulemaking request. Schumer, in a letter to OMB urged OMB to stop delaying and finally act.

In addition, Schumer pressed for passage of the Safe Chemicals Act, which would overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and give the EPA significant new authority to test and restrict the use of chemicals that cannot be proven safe. Currently, only chemicals that pose an “unreasonable risk” are regulated by the EPA under TSCA. The Safe Chemicals Act amends TSCA to direct the EPA to promulgate a rule that requires data on chemicals and requires manufactures to submit and update these data sets. The Safe Chemicals Act, of which Schumer is a co-sponsor, would change the current regulatory regime to one where manufacturers must prove the chemicals they are using are safe. The current regime assumes chemicals in use are safe, unless proven otherwise. It would also enable EPA to take action on chemicals of very high concern, toxic chemicals that persist and build up in the environment and in people, or chemicals that are highly toxic, and to which there is widespread exposure. The bill passed the Senate Environment and Public Works committee last month.

"It is disturbing that millions of young children are being exposed to these toxic chemicals with no regulations to protect them," said Judy Braiman of the Empire State Consumer Project, co-publisher of the report.


"Phthalates are chemicals that have been linked to asthma, ADHD, and other chronic health problems in children. This new report has now shown that many common products specifically intended for children have high levels of phthalates. It is imperative that parents are educated about how to protect their children by buying safer PVC-free school supplies, and that our lawmakers pass legislation to protect children from the long-term health effects of phthalate toxicity," said pediatric neurologist Dr Maya Shetreat-Klein, Assistant Clinical Professor of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.


“WE ACT for Environmental Justice has partnered with the Columbia Children's Environmental Health Center on studies that show how phthalates exposure on women and children in Harlem, Washington Heights and the South Bronx can cause developmental delays and heighten our children’s risk of diabetes, obesity and asthma,” said Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome of WE ACT for Environmental Justice.  “Communities that are already dealing with the burden of environmental pollution and other injustices,  are being “unknowingly” exposed through the proliferation of ‘dollar stores’ and other low-end stores that pitch these toxic products mostly in low-income and/or minority communities. These are not families that can "buy" their way out of this problem, and that is why we need legislation at the national and state level that protects all families, but especially the most vulnerable, from the significantly harmful health impacts posed by toxic chemicals. WE ACT as a leader of the Just Green Partnership is working in Albany on getting those laws passed and we thank Senator Schumer, who we have worked with, for his leadership at the national level.”


"Nothing is more precious to us than our children,” said Karen Miller, President of the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition (HBCAC) on Long Island.  “We would go to the ends of the Earth to keep them out of harm’s way.  Yet common products we purchase are putting our kids at risk for toxic overload.  Back to school season has offered some businesses another opportunity to further expose our children to harmful chemicals. It's outrageous!   We can do something about it. Today, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) released lab results showing which common back-to-school vinyl products contain phthalates. With this important information, we can take necessary steps to protect our families from harmful chemicals.  The more we know, the smarter choices we can make.  The toxic chemicals we are exposed to early in life affect us during a lifetime.  Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition (HBCAC) appreciates Senator Schumer for shining a light on this important health issue." 


"As a mom, I am horrified to know that Spider Man and Dora could be associated with highly toxic chemicals,” said Penelope Jagessar Chaffer, Director of the film Toxic Baby.  “As a filmmaker who has worked on this issue for years, I know what the effects of these toxic chemicals are on the bodies of children.  As more and more American moms become aware of this issue, it's clear that we are going to be using our considerable clout as consumers to buy products that are safe for kids.  These products are not.”


Today, advocates also released a Back-to-School Guide to PVC-free School Supplies, a guide to safer school supplies in over 40 product categories.  The Guide is intended to empower parents and teachers to find safer school supplies free of toxic phthalates and vinyl plastic.


“We are proud to co-release this guide with CHEJ.  We strongly support efforts to protect children’s health and this guide is an important tool to do just that,” said Kathleen Donahue, Vice President of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT).


To download the new Hidden Hazards report, Back to School Guide to PVC-free School Supplies, and see photos of the school supplies tested, visit:


A copy of Schumer’s letter to the Office of Management and Budget can be found below.


August 26, 2012


Jeffrey Zients, Acting Director 
Deputy Director for Management and
Chief Performance Officer
The Office of Management and Budget

725 17th Street, NW

Washington, DC 20503 

Dear Acting Director Zients:

            I am writing to express my support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) notice of proposed rulemaking to add phthalates as chemicals of concern under the Toxic Substance Chemicals Act (TSCA) that is currently pending interagency review at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). I wish to also convey my deep concern that this proposal has been under review by your office for over two years without action.

            I fully support EPA’s proposal to list phthalates under TSCA section 5(b)(4) as “chemicals that present or may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.” According to the EPA, “Section 5(b)(4) of the Toxic Substances Control Act authorizes the Administrator to compile and keep current a list of chemical substances with respect to which the Administrator finds that the manufacture, processing, distribution in commerce, use, or disposal, or any combination of such activities, presents or may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.”   

            As OMB has continued to review EPA’s proposal for over two years, American children and families continue to be exposed to potentially dangerous levels of these toxic chemicals. In a new report published this week by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), it was found that many children’s back-to-school supplies contain elevated levels of phthalates. Phthalates are banned from use in toys in the United States due to the adverse health effects associated with them, including birth defects, asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and diabetes to name a few. According to the report, eighty percent of children’s back to school supplies sampled contained phthalates and seventy five percent contained levels of phthalates that would be in violation of the federal ban for toys, if these products were considered toys. The report also noted that since phthalates are not chemically bound to the vinyl that is used in these products, they can migrate from within the products to the surface. Therefore, children may be exposed to elevated levels of these toxic substances by using these school supplies. This new report underscores the need for OMB to finish its review so EPA can protect public health and the environment.

            In the two years that EPA’s proposal has been under review by OMB, the science only continues to grow stronger that phthalates may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment. For example, two new peer-reviewed studies published over the past few months are calling attention to the potential link between exposure to phthalates and diabetes, a disease that affects 25.8 million Americans or 8.3% of the US population. The most recent study, led by researchers at Harvard, found phthalates linked to higher rates of diabetes in women. This comes at a time when the prevalence of diagnosed diabetes doubled from 1980 to 2010 in women.  


I applaud the EPA for their ongoing efforts to regulate unsafe chemicals such as phthalates. I respectfully request that you take action to complete the OMB’s review of EPA’s proposed rulemaking, so that the agency can follow through with their plan to list phthalates under TSCA section 5(b)(4) as “chemicals that present or may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.” 

            Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to your response to these concerns.


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