News Release

Safe Shopping Guide for Back-to-School Supplies

Lab results show many supplies safe, but some contain asbestos, lead and other hazardous chemicals
For Immediate Release

Many parents and teachers shopping for their students’ 2018-19 school supplies look for a non-toxic “AP” certified label on the products, but many products don’t have that label, so it’s unclear if they’re safe or not. U.S. PIRG Education Fund is releasing a guide that warns consumers about some products that may be on store shelves or already in their homes. 

"Parents and teachers can use our safe shopping guide when they go to back-to-school shopping,” said Kara Cook-Schultz, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Toxics Director. “We want to make sure they have the information they need to keep the children they care for safe.”

U.S. PIRG Education Fund tested dozens of school supplies including markers, crayons, dry erase markers, glue, 3-ring binders, spiral notebooks, lunchboxes and water bottles. We found several supplies containing asbestos, lead, benzene and other dangerous chemicals. The “School Supplies Safe Shopping Guide” warns consumers about those specific products, and offers suggestions for safer alternatives.

Out of the dozens of products that we tested, most did not contain toxic chemicals. However, our tests and investigation found the following: 

  • Asbestos in Playskool crayons sold at Dollar Tree. Asbestos, which can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, has recently been found in other children’s products, such as makeup.
  • Lead in recently-recalled children’s water bottles (Base Brands children’s Reduce Hydro Pro Furry Friends water bottle, once sold by Costco, and GSI Outdoors children’s water bottle, once sold by L.L. Bean). The Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled both of these items because they contained high levels of lead. Lead can cause severe developmental and behavioral problems.
  • Phthalates in Jot brand blue 3-ring binder. The levels of phthalates in the binder is considered unsafe for children by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. High levels of phthalates can lead to birth defects, hyperactivity, and reproductive problems.
  • Benzene in Board Dudes brand markers. Benzene is a known carcinogen linked to leukemia, and disruptions in sexual reproduction and liver, kidney and immune system function. 

“Based on our testing, we know that most manufacturers make safe school supplies. We’re calling on the makers of unsafe products to get rid of toxic chemicals and protect American schoolchildren,” said Cook-Schultz.

The full safe shopping guide, including names of stores selling the safer products, can be found here.

This guide is being released alongside a back to school toolkit created by the Coalition for Healthier Schools.

Access our full consumer guide, including pictures of the products, here, or go to our website at uspirg.org/backtoschool.

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