Toxic chemicals found in children’s school uniforms

A new study reports toxic chemicals were found in children’s school uniforms and other clothing items that are made to be stain-repellent; an unusual trade at the cost of children’s health, one of the study’s researchers says.

“It’s more important to have kids’ health than to make sure that your kids are stain repellent,” Miriam Diamond, University of Toronto environmental sciences professor, told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.

In a study published in the Environmental and Science Technology journal, Diamond, along with other researchers across North America, reported finding levels of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also called “forever chemicals” in children’s school uniforms, snow suits, mittens, bibs and hats sold in Canada and the US

These chemicals are known for taking years to break down and polluting soil and water in the environment, and they can be toxic to humans if ingested.

The study found 65 per cent of the 72 different tested products had PFAS, but school uniforms made of 100 per cent cotton and synthetic blends had the highest amounts. Fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOHs), which are used in the production of PFAS, were most commonly found in children’s clothes. Previous reports have found FTOHs to be present in carpets and anti-fogging sprays and cloths.

Diamond said the chemicals that were found are used to repel and resist stains and water, however the cost of ensuring a child’s cleanliness for their outdoor wear shouldn’t outweigh the importance of health risks in the future.

“We’re concerned about the chemicals because of their potential to cause adverse health effects which vary from asthma to causing problems with immune function, causing problems with metabolism, thyroid,” she said. “So, a really wide range of health problems that really don’t seem worth it in order to repel a stain.”

While there has been some evidence in the past that points to some removal of the chemicals by washing the clothes, Diamond says prevention is the best way to ensure children aren’t exposed to these chemicals.

“Try to avoid buying new school uniforms that are labeled as stain resistant, stain release and water repellent. Please pressure your school board to advise that you purchase a school uniform that’s not labeled as stain resistant.”