Good Chemistry: Green Tips for Better Health, from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England

Go to the Head of the Class With Smart School Supplies

Aaahhh…September is right around the corner.  September signals summer slowly winding to an end, and for many adults, signals a renewed sense of purpose.  I think many of us “grown-ups” regard September as a kind of “New Year” as we are so used to associating this month with the start of a new school year.  So, in the spirit of my pseudo holiday, I have decided to take on a September New Year’s Resolution - I hereby resolve to send my sons back to school with PVC-free school supplies.


PVC, polyvinyl chloride, has been notoriously deemed the “poison plastic” for good reason.  Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is unique among plastics because it contains dangerous chemical additives used to soften or stabilize it. These harmful chemicals include phthalates, lead, cadmium, and/or organotins. One could argue that no other plastic contributes to the release of as many reproductive health toxicants than PVC.  PVC’s lifecycle is one of the largest sources of dioxins in our environment.  Exposure to dioxin has been linked with birth defects, decreased fertility, inability to carry pregnancies to term, lowered testosterone levels, decreased sperm counts, and decreased testis size.  Furthermore, several studies have detected measureable amounts of dioxin in women's breastmilk.

Additionally, PVC is responsible for the consumption of over 90% of all phthalates worldwide.  Phthalates must be added to PVC in large quantities – and can make up to 60% of the final product by weight.  Over 5 million tons of phthalates are used in vinyl every year, and more than 80 million tons of phthalates are estimated to be contained in the stock of PVC products now in use in buildings and other applications.  Exposure to phthalates has been linked to reproductive problems including shorter pregnancy duration, premature breast development in females and sperm damage and impaired reproductive development in males.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Yes, PVC is bad, but what on earth does PVC have to do with school supplies?”  Parents across the country are getting ready to stock up on binders and lunchboxes, and while it’s easy to know the healthiest foods to pack in those lunchboxes, many parents are not aware of the toxic plastic used to make them.  In fact, the average child’s character-themed backpack is filled with supplies and materials made from toxic PVC. Lunchboxes, binders, vinyl backpacks, and even art supplies are frequently made out of PVC. 

Federal law has banned the use of phthalates in children’s toys, but not children’s school supplies and other PVC products found in schools.  Children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful health effects of toxic chemicals used in PVC.  Recent studies have linked PVC flooring in the home to increased rates of autism and asthma in children.  Chemicals that evaporate or leech out of PVC products may contribute to developmental disorders and damage to the liver, central nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems. 

As parents, we can take comfort in knowing that the back-to-school shopping excursion does not need be a long, toxic trip.  According to Mike Schade, CHEJ’s PVC Campaign Coordinator,  “Parents can easily protect their children by shopping PVC-free.  There are many safer PVC-free products available and even being sold alongside the toxic PVC items at your local retailer.  Read the labels, and give your child a healthy start to the new school year.”

CHEJ, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, is releasing the expanded 2nd Annual Edition of their popular Back to School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies to help parents make informed shopping choices.  Over twenty categories of school supplies, from backpacks to art supplies, are covered in the guide.  As a companion piece to the full guide, a pocket guide with top-tips and at-a-glance advice is also available. 

If you are as outraged as me that manufacturers knowingly market PVC products to our children, please share your thoughts; it’ll be comforting to know I’m not the only mad mamma out there!  And if you find a store or website with a great selection of PVC-free back-to-school supplies, please drop a comment so other concerned parents can send their kiddies off to school with peace-of-mind (well, at least peace-of- mind in regards to school supplies).

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 at 2:24 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.


One Response to “Go to the Head of the Class With Smart School Supplies”

  1. Meghan Says:

    Hi Heather,

    Great article–I’m glad you shared it! I hear that GreenLine paper has a good selection of enviro- friendly supplies: You may have to get out the markers and stickers so your kids can make them more ‘cool’ (What’s the word for cool these days?), but it’s a good start!


Leave a Reply

To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture. Click on the picture to hear an audio file of the word.
Anti-spam image