1. Introduction: why is there a concern over phthalates in school supplies?
The Danish EPA found a variety of phthalates in school supplies.
Source: scol22, sxc.hu
Phthalates are a group of chemical compounds widely used as additives in a range of plastics and other materials that are found in many consumer products. They make plastics, such as PVC, soft and flexible. They are not chemically bound to plastics, so they can be released from consumer products into the environment and may result in human exposure. There is public concern about phthalates because of their widespread use, including in products for children, and their potential effects on human health.
Many different phthalates exist with different properties, uses, and health effects. Several of them have been assessed within an EU program on Risk Assessment for new and existing chemical substances. In 2005, the European Union adopted a directive that bans some phthalates in toys (products designed or clearly intended for use in play by children) and childcare articles (products intended to facilitate sleep, relaxation, hygiene, the feeding of children or sucking on the part of children):
- In all toys and childcare products DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate), DBP (dibutyl phthalate), and BBP (benzyl butyl phthalate) are banned.
- In those toys and childcare products that children could place into their mouths, Di-isononyl phthalate (DINP) and di-isodecyl phthalate (DIDP), and di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP) are banned. “Placing in the mouth” means that the article or parts of an article can actually be brought to the mouth and kept in the mouth by children so that it can be sucked and chewed.
The Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently analysed and detected the presence of phthalates in school supplies such as school bags, play bags, pencil cases and erasers. After doing tests to measure the possible exposure of children through normal use of those products, the Danish EPA concluded that, in general, there were no risks associated with the chemicals contained in the school supplies when these are used normally.
However, the study points out that some of the erasers that were made of PVC contained DEHP as a plasticizer, and children who have the habit of sucking or biting pieces off erasers may be exposed to harmful levels of DEHP. The study also stresses that it analysed only a few products, and that there might be other articles with higher phthalate contents. There could also be other sources of these chemicals in the child’s environment that would contribute to the total exposure.
Also, there have been claims that certain consumer products contain phthalates other than those banned, even though we still know little about their risks. Although such claims are unconfirmed so far, it appears plausible that such phthalates may be used in order to avoid a conflict with the ban. More...