Study: Toxic Chemical Found in Kids' Lunchboxes

Disney Princess Lunchbox
Disney Princess Lunchbox
flickr/CHEJ

Those Disney princesses sure come with a lot of baggage. This time, it's their lunchbox that packs a problem: The Disney Princess Lunchbox, along with other back-to-school kids' products, has a toxic chemical that experts say is dangerous for children and already has been banned in toys.

A new report, released yesterday by the advocacy group Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), reveals that many children's vinyl back-to-school products contain high levels of phthalates chemicals, which in 2008 were banned by the federal government in toys.

"When kids take their lunch to school this fall, they shouldn't be carrying it in a lunchbox laden with toxic chemicals," said Schumer in a statement.

The study tested 20 children's products now on store shelves, all popular back-to-school purchases, and discovered that 75% contained elevated levels of phthalates, a class of chemical considered hazardous even at low levels of exposure. Phthalates are used to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and are contained in hundreds of other products, including food packaging, detergents, shower curtains, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

Before the federal ban, many soft PVC children's products (such as pacifiers and toys) were plasticized with phthalates. It was discovered that when children sucked and chewed on the plastic, they ingested the chemical.

Numerous studies have linked phthalates to birth defects, early puberty, asthma, attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity, obesity and infertility. A recent Harvard study on the chemical found a link between exposure and increased diabetes risks in women.

As is often the case with dangerous chemicals, children are the most vulnerable. Phthalates have been found in the air and dust of homes and schools. The chemicals also have been detected in blood, urine and breast milk, indicating widespread exposure.

The Disney Princess Lunchbox contains phthalate levels over 29 times the allowable limit. The chemicals also were found in: The Amazing Spiderman Lunchbox, The Access Bag N Pack Lunch Bag and the Amazing Spiderman Backpack, which contains the Fridge Green 6 Can Cooler. (Which got us wondering about another issue: Who the heck sends a kid to school with six cans of soda? And, as long as we're worrying about chemicals, yesterday's New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof reminds us about the dangers of the endocrine disruptor BPA in canned goods and many other products.)

Environmental and health advocates are urging passage of the Safe Chemicals Act, sponsored by Schumer and U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), which would provide stricter scrutiny of chemicals.

Mike Schade, author of the CHEJ report, said in a statement: "Unfortunately, while phthalates have been banned in children's toys, similar safeguards don't yet exist to keep them out of lunchboxes, backpacks and other children's school supplies. It's time for Congress to move forward and pass the Safe Chemicals Act to protect our children and schools from toxic exposure."

Center for Health, Environment & Justice has published a guide for parents and teachers, to help them find PVC-free school supplies.


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