By Mike Schade
Mike Schade is the campaign coordinator for the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice (CHEJ)
For much of the time when their bodies and intellect are developing, children are in school. It’s therefore critical to keep schools free from toxic chemicals linked to asthma and developmental damage. However, our nation’s schools are in toxic trouble, and many are actually a threat to our children’s health and ability to learn.
An emerging toxic plastic of concern, polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl), is widespread in schools throughout the country. Found in building materials and even back-to-school supplies, PVC and its hidden toxic chemical additives, such as phthalates, are harmful to children’s health and development. Children are not “little adults” – their developing brains and bodies, their metabolism and behaviors make them uniquely vulnerable to harm from toxic chemicals released by PVC.
PVC: The Most Toxic Plastic for Children’s Health
Chemicals released by the PVC lifecycle have been linked to chronic diseases on the rise such as cancer, asthma, learning and developmental disabilities, obesity, and even reproductive disorders. PVC uses and releases a toxic cocktail of chemicals including the Agent Orange chemical dioxin, phthalates, vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, mercury, lead, cadmium, and organotins.
Phthalates, which are added to make PVC soft and flexible, are released from these PVC products and pose avoidable public health risks. In fact, over 90% of all phthalates are used in vinyl plastic. These phthalates have been linked to health problems on the rise in children. Congress has banned a number of phthalates in children’s toys, yet they are often found in PVC found in schools. A growing body of scientific evidence has found that toxic phthalates released by PVC products are released into dust and the air and entering our bodies. They’ve been found in indoor air and dust, breast milk, and are most concentrated in children ages 6 to 11 and in women.
PVC and Asthma – Are Schoolchildren, Teachers, and Custodians at Risk?
In recent years, a number of studies have found a correlation between phthalates emitted from PVC building products, like vinyl flooring, and asthma. Far too many children today have asthma, which is a serious, sometimes life-threatening respiratory disease that affects 7 million American children and 16 million adults. An average of one out of every 13 school-age children has asthma. In fact, asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism: 14.7 million school days are missed each year due to asthma.
This is Your Brain. This is Your Brain on PVC.
Asthma isn’t the only illness on the rise in children. According to recent studies, the incidence of learning and developmental disabilities appears to be rising, affecting about one in six children in the U.S. under the age of 18. According to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, “students with disabilities are a special “at risk” population for the harmful effects of exposures to environmental hazards at school.” A number of chemicals released by the PVC lifecycle have been linked with or have been shown to cause learning and developmental disabilities. These include dioxin, lead, and mercury. Preliminary research suggests phthalates may also be linked to learning and developmental disabilities. One recent study found children who live in homes with vinyl floors, which can emit phthalates, are twice as likely to have autism
Safe, Cost-Effective Alternatives are Available for Schools.
Thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom. Major businesses such as Google; Apple; HP; Dell; Target; Wal-Mart; Bed, Bath & Beyond; and IKEA are phasing out PVC. Over 100 healthcare facilities across America are reducing the purchase of PVC and phthalates.
PVC is found in many building materials including flooring, roofing, and carpeting, as well as in school and office supplies such as 3-ring binders, backpacks, lunchboxes, computers, and paperclips. Safer alternatives are available. To find safer alternatives to PVC in your child’s school, check out this interactive website the Center for Health, Environmental & Justice created, This Vinyl School.
What Can I Do? Take Action for Healthy PVC-Free Schools
You can take steps to create healthier schools for your children. Safer and cost-effective alternatives are already available for virtually every PVC product on the market. Here’s how you can help today:
* Educate yourself: Check out our fact sheet on PVC in schools
* Share This Vinyl school with your friends on Facebook and Twitter:
* Encourage your school to renovate or build their school with PVC-free building materials such as PVC-free linoleum flooring and TPO roofing.
* Encourage your school district to adopt a healthy building policy to avoid the use of PVC building materials and office supplies where safer alternatives are available.
* Back to school – go PVC-free! When buying your back-to-school supplies, shop for PVC-free products
What are you doing to create a healthier school for your children? What tips do you have for other parents? Share them in the comments below.