Leave PVC off the back-to-school list

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by Katie Rojas=Jahn | August 4, 2009 • Believe it or not, August is already here and the first day of school is just around the corner! Parents are gearing up for the school year and literally “gearing up” their kids with all the implements their class lists require.

Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.

Remember those days? With your knees all scraped up from summer activities like bike riding, baseball and climbing trees—your parents would drag you through the department store for a new backpack, notebook or some ugly lunch box just because it was 40 percent off?

Well, it turns out that a lot of those school supplies—including lunchboxes, backpacks and three-ring binders—are made with polyvinyl chloride (also called PVC or vinyl)—a toxic plastic that is dangerous to our health and the environment; not only during its production but during use and disposal as well.

School supplies made with PVC can contain dangerous chemical additives, like phthalates and lead, which can leach out of the products over time and pose unnecessary health risks to our children.

You may already know that due to the risks posed by exposure to phthalates, the federal government banned them from children’s toys last year, but they can still be used in other types of products like school supplies. So Healthy Legacy, in partnership with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), is releasing the Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies. The guide is a tool parents can use to identify which products are made from PVC and provides tips and tricks to finding a product that’s just as useful, but made from a safer alternative.

(Products made from vinyl can often be identified by a number “3” inside, or the letters “V” or “PVC” underneath the recycling symbol. If a product isn’t labeled, contact the manufacturer to ask—you have a right to know.)

There’s also another reason to avoid products made from PVC. As previously mentioned, PVC—also known as “the poison plastic”—is toxic through its entire life cycle (that is, from its creation, through its useful life and to its disposal). That means that the communities where this plastic is manufactured are often at a higher risk for health-related problems.

That’s exactly the case in the historic African-American community of Mossville, Louisiana, which is home to more PVC plants than anywhere else in the U.S. Studies have shown that residents there are more likely to suffer from health problems like ear, nose and throat illnesses; central nervous system disturbances; and increased skin, digestive, immune and endocrine disorders. Would you want that in your neighborhood?

As you write up that list of “must-haves” and head out to the stores to prepare for the coming school year, make sure to go toxic-free and avoid products made from PVC!

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