Back-to-School Advice: Cross PVC Plastic Off Your Shopping List

High concentrations of a toxic chemical compound banned in toys were detected in some plastic school supplies prompting a health and environmental watchdog group to warn consumers anew.

The EcoWaste Coalition, an advocate for chemical safety and zero waste, likewise urged the Department of Health (DOH) to expand current restriction on phthalate use to cover all children’s products, including childcare articles and school supplies.

The group made the proposal after finding some back-to-school essentials laden with phthalate DEHP, which is added to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics to make them soft and flexible.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has classified DEHP as a “probable human carcinogen.”

The group bought the product samples from Isetann Department Store, National Book Store, SM  Department Store and from one sidewalk vendor in Quiapo and Sta. Cruz, Manila and have them analyzed for phthalates by SGS, a global testing company, as part of their back-to-school campaign for children’s health and safety.

Based on the laboratory test results, all the five samples of school supplies, which are made of PVC plastic or with PVC components, contain high levels of DEHP, which is prohibited in toys above 0.1% by weight.  These are:

1.“Superman” poncho child’s rainwear (P249.75, SM), with 22.90% DEHP

2. “Koko Cat” child’s lunch bag (P139, Isetann), with 15.60% DEHP
3. “Spiderman” child’s raincoat (P104, Isetann), with 4.04% DEHP
4. “Princess Mica” Bagpack (P499.75, NBS), with 0.985% DEHP
5.  Qbaby “Frozen” Bagpack (P230, sidewalk vendor), 0.597% DEHP
“While certain phthalates are banned by DOH in toys, such a safety measure does not exist yet for school supplies. We therefore urge the health authorities to look into broadening the coverage of its current policy on phthalates to include all childcare articles as well as school supplies,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

Under the DOH Administrative Order 2009-0005-A as amended in December 2011, phthalates DEHP, DBP or BBP in concentrations exceeding 0.1% are banned in the manufacturing of toys, while phthalates DINP, DIDP or DNOP above 0.1% are prohibited in toys that can be placed in a child’s mouth.

“As phthalates are commonly used in the production of PVC plastics, we advise parents to keep PVC off their back-to-school must-buy list and to patronize safer alternatives instead,” Dizon said.

“By shopping for PVC-free consumer products, we also avoid serious health and environmental problems associated with their disposal later as PVC plastics, if incinerated, will lead to the formation of cancer-causing dioxins,” he added.

Animal studies have shown that the lowest levels of exposure to specific phthalates may have critical toxic effects on reproduction, on development, the liver and the thyroid. 

Phthalates have been linked to genital abnormalities in boys, early onset of puberty in girls, asthma, obesity and cancer. 

Phthalates are absorbed by the human body through ingestion, inhalation and skin absorption.

To minimize phthalate exposure through school supplies, the EcoWaste Coalition urges parents to consider the following tips adopted from the “Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies”:

1.  Avoid school supplies made vinyl plastic or PVC plastic, or those marked “3,” “V” or”PVC.” 

2.  Avoid backpacks with shiny plastic designs as they often contain PVC and may contain lead.

3.  Avoid clays made of PVC.

4.  Avoid notebooks containing metal spirals with colored plastic coating that may contain PVC. 

5.  Avoid metal paper clips coated with PVC plastic.