‘What are they thinking?’: toxic ‘forever chemicals’ found in school uniforms | Health

Toxic PFAS chemicals are frequently used to make children’s clothing and textiles resist water and stains, but exposure to the compounds in clothes represents a serious health risk, a new peer-reviewed study finds.

The study, published in the Environmental and Science Technology journal, detected the chemicals in 65% of school uniforms, rain gear, snowsuits, snowshoes, mittens, bibs, hats and stroller covers tested, and at levels authors characterized as “high”.

“It’s one of those things where you hang your head and say ‘What are they thinking?’” said co-author and University of Notre Dame researcher Graham Peaslee. “Everyone thinks stain-resistant clothes are great progress, but if little Johnny or Jane is covered in PFAS, is that great progress?”

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of about 12,000 compounds used to make consumer products resist water, stains and heat. They’re called “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down, and they accumulate in the environment and human body. Researchers have linked PFAS to cancer, birth defects, kidney disease, decreased immunity, reproductive problems and other serious health issues.

The study of textiles purchased in the US and Canada builds off previous studies that have found the toxic compounds in children’s outdoor clothing, but it’s the first to examine their use in school uniforms and other indoor children’s clothing. Peaslee said the only textile in which he had found higher levels of PFAS than school uniforms was turnout gear used to protect firefighters.

The new study detected PFAS in all “stain-resistant” school uniforms tested from nine “popular brands”. The chemicals were found in uniforms made from 100% cotton, cotton spandex and cotton polyester. It’s estimated that about a quarter of all US school children wear uniforms, and they’re most commonly required in low-income, Catholic and other private elementary schools.

The most commonly detected PFAS compound was 6:2 FTOH, which is also used in floor wax, food packaging and water sealants. The Guardian previously revealed that PFAS producers like DuPont and Daikin had hidden the dangers of 6:2 FTOH by not telling regulators that animals exposed to the compound at very low levels in lab tests suffered kidney failure, liver damage, mammary gland problems, mottled teeth and other issues.

PFAS can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled when it breaks off from clothing, or ingested from “hand-to-mouth” contacts. Kids are especially vulnerable because they have a smaller body mass and their bodies and organs are developing. The study’s authors say it’s best to avoid clothing with labels along the lines of “stain-resistant”, “weather-resistant”, or “waterproof”, and to urge schools to order PFAS-free products.

“I don’t know any parent who values ​​stain repellency over their child’s health,” said Miriam Diamond, co-author and professor at the University of Toronto. The test comes as New York and California are poised to ban the use of PFAS in textiles.

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