Safe Shopping Guide for Back-to-School Supplies

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MASSPIRG Education Fund

Parents and teachers shopping for their students’ 2018-19 school supplies often look for a “non-toxic” label on the products, but many products don’t have that label. MASSPIRG 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 Janet Domenitz, Executive Director of the MASSPIRG Education Fund. “We want consumers to feel safe knowing they are sending their kids off to school with supplies that don’t contain toxic chemicals.”

MASSPIRG Education Fund 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 “School Supplies Safe 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 live, 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,” said Kara Cook-Schultz, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Toxics Director.

“When school supplies are toxic, there’s something wrong. This guide is a great resource in the short term, but ultimately, we can’t shop our way out of this problem. We need manufacturers and retailers to take responsibility for making and selling safe products and we need the government to hold them accountable by passing laws that protect children from toxic hazards,” remarked Elizabeth Saunders, Massachusetts Director Clean Water Action.

“Parents cannot take it for granted that schools are the safe havens their children deserve. I encourage parents and teachers to use PIRG’s Consumer Guide when shopping for back-to-school supplies. It sets a high standard for safety to protect  kids from exposures to toxins such as lead and phthalates in their markers, water bottles, lunchboxes and other common supplies and school products,” advised Ellie Goldberg, M.Ed of 

Access our full consumer guide, including pictures of the products here:, or go to our website at


MASSPIRG Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well being.