Baby/Kid Gear

Toxic Chemicals Hiding in Disney, Dora and Spiderman School Supplies

August 29, 2023

By Guest Blogger, Mike Schade, Markets Campaign Coordinator, Center for Health, Environment, and Justice

About to head out for some last-minute back-to-school shopping? Wait one second.

I just authored a brand new report that found toxic chemicals linked to asthma and birth defects widespread in children’s vinyl back-to-school supplies.

The chemicals we found, phthalates, are so toxic they’ve been banned in toys, yet are widespread in children’s vinyl school supplies. See what CBS News has to say about our new report.

Our new investigation found 75% of children’s “back-to-school” supplies tested in a laboratory had elevated levels of toxic phthalates, including popular Disney, Spiderman, and Dora branded school supplies, such as vinyl lunchboxes, backpacks, 3-ring binders, raincoats, and rainboots.

The levels of phthalates would be illegal if these products were toys. For instance, we found:

  • A Dora the Explorer Backpack contained phthalates over 69 times the limit set by the federal ban.
  • An Amazing Spider Man Backpack contained phthalates over 52 times the limit set by the federal ban.
  • A Disney Princess Lunchbox contained phthalates over 29 times the limit set by the federal ban.
  • An Amazing Spiderman Lunchbox contained phthalates over 27 times the limit set by the federal ban.

Just like toys, school supplies like these are used by young children vulnerable to chemical exposure.

And surprise! None of the products had any labels on them indicating they were chock full of these nasty substances. Don’t we have a right to know?

Phthalates: Harmful to Children’s Health

As a reader of Healthy Child Healthy World’s blog, I don’t need to tell you children are especially vulnerable to toxic chemicals. What you may not know is that these phthalates that are lurking in children’s school supplies have been linked to many serious health problems in children and adults.

Over 90% of all phthalates are used to soften vinyl (aka PVC) plastic. Phthalates are hazardous at low levels of exposure, disrupt hormones in our bodies, and have been linked to birth defects, infertility, early puberty, asthma, ADHD, obesity, diabetes, and cancer.

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 are getting into children’s bodies. According to testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children face the highest exposures to these hazardous chemicals.

Safer Alternatives are Available

Thankfully, there are many safer alternatives on the market. One simple way you can steer clear of phthalates in children’s school supplies is cutting out PVC/vinyl all together, as over 90% of phthalates are used in vinyl.

So in conjunction with the release of the new product testing data, we’ve also released our 5th annual Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies, featuring over 40 product categories of safer gear for the fall, including backpacks, lunchboxes, binders, art supplies, electronics, and more. You can download the guide here.

We’ve also put together a handy 1-page wallet-sized version for shopping on the go.

Want to help spread the word?

We can use your help in getting the word out to other parents! Please consider sharing this link with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter. Together, we can get these toxic chemicals out of children’s school supplies once and for all!

Mike Schade is the Markets Campaign Coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), a national environmental health organization.

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of Healthy Child Healthy World.