CALPIRG Helps Parents & Consumers’ breathe easier sending their kids back to school

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Jon Fox

Back-to-School Guide for Safer School Supplies

CALPIRG Education Fund

San Francisco, CA – Today the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) Education Fund released new tips highlighting ways to create safer and healthier learning environments by eliminating indoor air pollution caused by toxic chemicals.

Many children’s school supplies are made from, or contain, toxic chemicals. These toxic chemicals include polyvinyl chloride (PVC), lead, cadmium, phthalates, and bisphenol A (BPA), to name a few. Yet many parents and caretakers may not know that common back-to-school items – from backpacks to binders – contain toxic chemicals.

Even low-dose exposures to toxic chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, and impaired learning in children,” said Jon Fox, Consumer Advocate with CALPIRG Education Fund. “These chemicals are especially dangerous to the health of growing children because much of a child’s physical and intellectual development occurs during their school years.

To help address the concerns of parents, CALPIRG Education Fund published the following Back-to-School DOs and DON’Ts:

Avoid Toxic Chemicals

Use non-plastic products wherever possible. If you have to purchase plastic, avoid:

  1. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) – Recycling Symbol #3
  2. Polycarbonate (PC) – Recycling Symbol #7
  3. Polystyrene (PS) – Recycling Symbol #6
  4. Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene – labeled ABS

* If no symbol, call the manufacturer to find out what’s in the product.



Better: Natural Fiber

OK: Polyester or Nylon (better than PVC)

Avoid: backpacks with shiny plastic designs (may contain PVC or lead)



Better: recycled cardboard or natural fiber covered notebooks

Avoid: metal spirals encased in colored plastic (usually contain PVC); plastic cover notebooks


Three-Ring Binders

Better: cardboard, fabric-covered, or polypropylene binders

Avoid: vinyl 3-ring binders (made of PVC)


Crayons & Markers

Better: soy or beeswax crayons; pencil highlighters

Avoid: paraffin wax crayons; dry-erase and permanent markers (contain toxic solvents); scented markers



Better: water-based glues; glue sticks; “school” glue

Avoid: epoxies; rubber cement; super glues (contain toxic solvents)


Pens & Pencils

Better: plain wooden pencils made from sustainable wood or recycled newspaper

Avoid: pencils with glossy or paint coating; scented pens


Paper Products

Better: recycled paper

Avoid: bleached paper; paper with added lotions, fragrances and dyes


Art Supplies

Better: Paints that are water-based and colored with natural, non-metal pigments

Avoid: smocks made of PVC; modeling clays made of PVC (contain phthalates)



Better: PVC-free raincoats and rain boots

Avoid: PVC-containing clothing, rain gear and accessories



Better: natural-fiber jewelry

Avoid: plastic or metal jewelry containing phthalates, cadmium, and lead



Better: cloth lunch bags; unpainted metal lunch boxes

OK: BPA-free plastic lunch boxes

Avoid: PVC-lined lunch boxes; BPA-containing lunch boxes; painted lunchboxes that may contain lead; boxes treated with antimicrobial chemicals


Beverage Bottles

Better: stainless steel containers

OK: BPA-free plastic or BPA-free aluminum containers

Avoid: single-use plastic water bottles


The California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) is a result-oriented public interest group that protects consumers, encourages a fair sustainable economy, and fosters responsive democratic governance.



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