News Release

Safer School Supplies: Shopping Guide

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

Many parents and teachers shopping for their students’ 2018-19 school supplies look for a “non-toxic” label on the products, but many products don’t have that label. CALPIRG Education Fund is releasing a guide that advises consumers which products are actually non-toxic and which to avoid. 

"This fall, parents and teachers can use our safe shopping guide to help them purchase school supplies,” said Laura Deehan, CALPIRG Education Fund Director of Public Health. “We should feel safe knowing we’re sending our kids off to school with supplies that don’t contain toxic chemicals.”

CALPIRG Education Fund and other groups 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 “Safer School Supplies: 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:

  • Trace amounts of 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,” added Laura Deehan.

Given that it is often legal to sell products containing toxic substances, parents buying glue, markers, pencils, rulers, and crayons can look for the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) "AP" label, which lets consumers know that the product is non-toxic for children. For products like water bottles and lunchboxes where there is no AP label offered, look for a manufacturer's "children's product certificate" on the product, which assures parents that the product has been tested in a third-party laboratory under specifications set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. If neither of those labels is on the product, parents can reach out to the manufacturers and ask that they start using AP certification, or that they meet the requirements needed for a children's product certificate.

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

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