In May of this year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced a recall of crayons because of a “laceration hazard”. The reason: Two reports of glass found in red crayons made by Discount School Supply. Last week, as millions of parents and children were finishing the annual trek to shop for back-to-school supplies, another brand of crayons made by Playskool received the evil eye of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, says Abha Bhattarai:
A popular brand of crayons contains toxic levels of asbestos, according to a consumer advocacy group that is calling on retailers such as Dollar Tree and Amazon.com to pull the items from their shelves.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) Education Fund says Playskool crayons tested positive for asbestos, which can lead to lung cancer and mesothelioma if inhaled or ingested. The group tested 36-packs of crayons purchased at a Dollar Tree store in Chicago but noted that they are also being sold online at Amazon, eBay and DollarDays.com…
“There is no reason to be exposing kids to a known carcinogen, especially in crayons,” said Kara Cook-Schultz, toxics director for U.S. PIRG.
And here is something that may surprise you… and should disappoint you all the same:
Although federal laws regulate the amount of asbestos in drinking water, schools and some consumer products, there are no regulations on the amount of asbestos allowed in children’s products, according to Cook-Schultz.
Asbestos wasn’t the only toxic substance found in popular school supplies. For their new report, “Safer School Supplies: Shopping Guide,” U.S. PIRG’s independent laboratory tested 27 different school supplies, finding four products that tested positive for toxic chemicals:
We conducted laboratory tests for toxic chemicals in popular school supplies. Researchers tested markers (washable and dry-erase), crayons, glue (liquid and sticks), spiral notebooks, rulers, 3-ring binders, lunchboxes, and water bottles for toxic chemicals such as lead, asbestos, phthalates, BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene), and bisphenol-A (BPA). We purchased the supplies from across the country at a wide variety of stores including big box stores, dollar stores, drug stores, online retailers, and arts and crafts stores.
Among the school supplies surveyed, we found Playskool crayons from Dollar Tree that contained asbestos, a 3-ring binder from Dollar Tree that contained high levels of phthalates, a dry-erase markers containing benzene, and we highlight two water bottles that have been recalled due to high levels of lead.
Last month, we discovered phthalates in our food — byproducts of plastic food-packaging materials:
Phthalates, which makes plastic and vinyl tubes used in industrial food production flexible, may affect male genital development, increase childhood obesity, and contribute to cardiovascular disease. In 2017, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of some phthalates in child-care products such as teething rings.
We’ve even seen how phthalates, which are manmade chemicals found in plastic products and solvents, can be absorbed by fetuses developing in utero, potentially causing damage to children’s intelligence:
[P]hthalates — previously shown to increase the risk of asthma, insulin resistance and obesity, thyroid disease, and brain development in children, as well as preterm births — are ubiquitous in consumer products, and the new study shows they may affect a developing child’s intelligence.
And like lead, for which there is no safe level of exposure, benzene is a highly toxic chemical, and it is known to cause cancer in both adults and children. Benzene was found in one kit of dry-erase markers while other BTEX chemicals — benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, also known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — were found in another package of markers, reports Niraj Chokshi:
Four markers were sent to the laboratory, and two dry-erase ones tested positive for a group of compounds often found in petroleum products and known as B.T.E.X.: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.
One of those compounds, benzene, is a known carcinogen and was found in a package of six magnetic markers purchased on Amazon and produced by The Board Dudes, a brand owned by Mattel.
In a statement, Mattel said it took such reports seriously, “aggressively” tests its products and was reviewing the claims. The markers, the statement added, “contain substance levels that fall within the permissible limits.”
Benzene disrupts the normal functioning of cells, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Long-term exposure can have harmful effects on bone marrow and lead to a decrease in red blood cells.
An Expo dry-erase scented marker, also purchased on Amazon, tested positive for some of the B.T.E.X. compounds, though not benzene and none at levels considered worrying by toxicologists, according to the report.
In a statement, Expo said that it was aware of the report and that its products “meet all applicable regulatory and safety standards.”
One logical question that comes to mind is: What do they mean by “permissible limits'” of chemicals that “meet all applicable regulatory and safety standards”? Scientists and doctors know from decades of occupational and community research the adverse health impacts these chemicals have on adults and children. But most of the regulatory, safety, and public health standards apply mostly to adults; there is still not a lot of data regarding what the “safe” or “permissible” exposure doses are in children. Therefore parents would be safe to assume that there are no safe levels of exposure for a large number of chemicals that have become ubiquitous in our environment and in our lives unless proven otherwise.
The good news is that most of the back-to-school products in U.S. PIRG’s report tested negative for toxic chemicals. There is no doubt that because of strong federal rules and standards, U.S. manufacturers have been getting better at making safer consumer products. But these days when environmental health protections and safeguards are being rolled back at an astonishing rate by policymakers and bureaucrats who are clearly not experts on these subjects, parents can be forgiven for gazing upon their children and asking, Why would we do that?