School stationery and supplies | Breast Cancer UK

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School stationery and supplies

Research suggests that children have far higher levels of harmful toxic chemicals in their bodies - partly because of their faster metabolic rate, but also because of their hand to mouth activity.  Most children chew their hands, pens, rulers and even their pencil cases and because they frequently put their hands in their mouths, they are more likely to ingest the toxic chemicals that migrate out of school supplies like backpacks, coats, pens and shoes too.  

In its study on school supplies, the Centre for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) found that over 80% of the school supplies tested were found to contain phthalates.  It said that, since phthalates are not chemically bound to the vinyl used in the supplies, they can migrate from within the products to the surface.  It also found that 40% of the supplies tested contained relatively low levels of heavy metals.   These chemicals have been linked to a range of adverse health effects, including breast cancer.

Unfortunately, a large array of school supplies on the market such as ring binders, back packs, school bags and pencil cases are made from poly vinyl chloride (PVC) but there are safer alternatives out there if you look for them.

Other stationery supplies can also contain harmful chemicals.  For example, coloured crayons, which invariably find their way into a children's mouths, are made with petroleum based paraffin wax and artificial and chemical-based colours; coloured pencils can use chemical based pigments as well as being coated with toxic varnish; and, oil based paints can use pigments made from toxic metals such as cadmium, arsenic.  So, if your child is a pencil or crayon chewer, it may be wise to find natural crayons made from beeswax or pencils with a safe, non toxic finish and always opt for non toxic water based paints, especially if children are using their hands for their creative artwork! 

Our advice:

  • Avoid anything which is labelled as containing PVC or marked with the recycling arrows with the number 3; 
  • Opt for fabric draw string bags for PE and swimming kits.  They wash really well so no need for anti-bacterial chemicals;
  • Source organic cotton canvas for backpacks - they make for sturdy alternatives and can now be found in a range of cool and cute designs;
  • Try searching for eco friendly stationery - recycled paper, natural paints and crayons and non toxic markers; and, finally
  • Children should always use non toxic water-based paints instead of oil based paints.

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