1. Introduction: why is there a concern over phthalates in school supplies?
The Danish EPA found a variety of phthalates in school
Source: scol22, sxc.hu
Phthalates are a group of
chemical compounds widely
used as additives in a range of plastics and other materials
that are found in many consumer products. They make plastics,
such as PVC, soft and
flexible. They are not chemically bound to plastics, so they can
be released from consumer products into the environment and may
result in human exposure. There is public concern about
phthalates because of their widespread use, including in
products for children, and their potential effects on human
Many different phthalates
exist with different properties, uses, and health effects.
Several of them have been assessed within an EU program on
Risk Assessment for new
and existing chemical substances. In 2005, the European Union
directive that bans some phthalates
in toys (products designed or clearly intended for use in play
by children) and childcare articles (products intended to
facilitate sleep, relaxation, hygiene, the feeding of children
or sucking on the part of children):
- In all toys and childcare products
(dibutyl phthalate), and
BBP (benzyl butyl
phthalate) are banned.
- In those toys and childcare products that children
could place into their mouths, Di-isononyl phthalate
(DINP) and di-isodecyl
phthalate (DIDP), and
(DNOP) are banned.
“Placing in the mouth” means that the article or parts of an
article can actually be brought to the mouth and kept in the
mouth by children so that it can be sucked and chewed.
The Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently
analysed and detected the presence of
phthalates in school
supplies such as school bags, play bags, pencil cases and
erasers. After doing tests to measure the possible exposure of
children through normal use of those products, the Danish EPA
concluded that, in general, there were no risks associated with
the chemicals contained in the school supplies when these are
However, the study points out that some of the erasers that
were made of PVC contained
DEHP as a plasticizer, and
children who have the habit of sucking or biting pieces off
erasers may be exposed to harmful levels of DEHP. The study also
stresses that it analysed only a few products, and that there
might be other articles with higher phthalate contents. There
could also be other sources of these chemicals in the child’s
environment that would contribute to the total exposure.
For two other phthalates,
DINP, the Danish EPA
concluded that exposure was significantly below the level that
would pose a risk.
Also, there have been claims that certain consumer products
contain phthalates other
than those banned, even though we still know little about their
risks. Although such claims are unconfirmed so far, it appears
plausible that such phthalates may be used in order to avoid a
conflict with the ban.