Many children’s products labeled as eco-friendly contain chemicals that are forever toxic, study finds
A slew of children’s products, including those with green certifications, may contain harmful “eternal chemicals” that weren’t listed on labels, a new study has found.
As more consumers demand products that are free of toxic ingredients, searching for items with eco-labels isn’t necessarily an effective strategy, according to research published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
These findings, the authors concluded, demonstrate the ubiquity of so-called eternal chemicals — also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — and the challenges Americans face when trying to avoid them, have noted the authors.
“Children’s bodies are still developing and are particularly sensitive to chemical exposures,” co-author Laurel Schaider, senior scientist at the Silent Spring Institute, said in a statement.
“It makes sense that parents would want to avoid products with ingredients that could impact their children’s health now and in the future,” Schaider added.
The Silent Spring Institute — a nonprofit that studies the link between chemicals in the environment and women’s health — received funding from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to the study.
To reach their conclusions, the researchers tested 93 different products often used by children and adolescents, including linens, furnishings and clothing. They said they were specifically looking for products labeled as stain-resistant, water-resistant, “green” or “non-toxic.”
Their initial tests used a rapid screening method that looks for fluorine, which is a marker for PFAS, an umbrella group for thousands of chemicals linked to testicular cancer, kidney cancer and various other diseases.
Although best known for their presence in jet fuel fire-fighting foams and industrial landfills, PFAS are also key components in a host of household items, such as rain gear and non-stick pans.
Of the 93 products the scientists tested, they found that 54 contained detectable levels of fluoride – with the highest concentration in a school uniform shirt.
Products marketed as water or stain resistant – including those marked as “green” or “non-toxic” – were more likely to contain fluoride and had higher concentrations of fluoride compared to other products.
Following these initial assessments, scientists then tested a subset of products for 36 different types of PFAS. According to the study, they only found PFAS in products labeled as water- or stain-resistant, whether marketed as “green” or “non-toxic.”
Of all the products tested, upholstered furniture, clothing, and pillow protectors most often contained PFAS, while pillow protectors had higher levels of PFAS than other items, the authors found.
“These are products that children come into close contact with every day and over a long period of time,” co-author Kathryn Rodgers, a doctoral student at the Boston University School of Public Health, said in a statement. “Given the toxicity of PFAS and the fact that the chemicals do not perform a critical function, they should not be permitted in products.”
A specific type of PFAS called PFOA — perfluorooctanoic acid — that has been largely phased out in the United States has also been detected in many products, including those labeled as “green,” according to the study. Most of these products came from China, the researchers noted.
The study findings underscore the need for green product certifiers to include PFAS in their criteria and conduct a more comprehensive review of the products they assess, according to Rodgers. Currently, certifications vary in their safety standards and do not all include the same compounds.
Wednesday’s study follows a January report by the group Toxic-Free Future, which found widespread PFAS contamination in clothing and other water- and stain-resistant textiles sold at many major retailers nationwide. , as reported by The Hill.
“Retailers must also play a role in ending this trail of toxic pollution,” Mike Schade, Mind the Store program director at Toxic-Free Future, said in a statement.
“Market power is built on trust,” he added. “Customers need to be able to trust that the retailers they buy from are selling products – especially those marketed for children – that are not loaded with PFAS chemicals forever.”