Harmful forever chemicals like PFAS are found in high levels in children’s school uniforms, according to a new study which is only likely to increase alarm about these worrying substances.
The study, carried out at the University of Notre Dame, found high levels of PFAS on school uniforms sold in North America.
PFAS are referred to as “forever chemicals” because they’re basically impossible to break down. Accumulating PFAS chemicals are toxic. The chemicals have been linked to reduced immunity, asthma, obesity, and neurodevelopmental or behavioral issues. National surveys in the US have regularly reported PFAS in blood samples of children between three and 11 years-old.
The Environmental Protection Agency recently classified PFAS as hazardous, and this new study is an uncomfortable reminder that they continue to linger everywhere, including in places we might never suppose.
Forever chemicals: high concentrations in school uniforms
In the US, around 20% of public schools have uniform requirements, which means that millions of children are at risk from these toxic compounds.
The researchers looked at 72 textile samples used in children’s school uniforms. They also tested outerwear incuding rain suits, snowsuits, mittens, and accessories such as sweatshirts and hats.
“What was surprising about this group of samples was the high detection frequency of PFAS in the garments required for children to wear,” says Graham Peaslee, a professor of physics at Notre Dame, in a university release.
“Children are a vulnerable population when it comes to chemicals of concern, and nobody knows these textiles are being treated with PFAS and other toxic chemicals.”
Researchers tested the garments with a special technique called particle-induced gamma ray emission (PIGE) spectroscopy, which tests for the presence of fluorine. This technique has helped detect PFAS in cosmetics, fast food wrappers, face masks, firefighting gear, and drinking water.
The analysis found fluorine in 65 percent of tested samples. Interestingly, school uniforms had a higher amount of chemicals lingering on the fabric when they were made out of 100-percent cotton rather than synthetics.
“There is no consumer option to purchase clothing that can be washed instead of clothing that comes coated with chemicals to reduce stains,” says Peaslee.
“We hope one of the outcomes of this work would be increased labeling of textiles to fully inform the purchaser of the chemicals used to treat the fabric prior to sale so consumers have the ability to pick garments that were not treated with chemicals for their children.”
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