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family in michigan

Sara Dean and her 2-year-old son, Patrick, sit at a table in their Parchment, Michigan home on October 8, 2018—a few months after it was discovered that the community's drinking water was contaminated with high levels of PFAS. (Photo: David Kasnic for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Study Shows Even 'Green' and 'Nontoxic' Products for Kids Contain Forever Chemicals

"These are products that children come into close contact with every day and over a long period of time," said one co-author, arguing that PFAS "should not be allowed in products."

Jessica Corbett

Research revealed Wednesday that many tested children's products, including those labeled "green" or "nontoxic," contain "forever chemicals."

"Children's bodies are still developing and are especially sensitive to chemical exposures."

The analysis of bedding, clothing, and funishings for kids—published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology—follows other recent reports that have found per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in household products, particularly those marketed as nonstick and stain- or water-resistant.

PFAS are a class of chemicals that don't break down in the environment or human body and are tied to various health issues, including cancers and damage to immune and reproductive systems. While some states have taken steps to ban PFAS in certain products and clean up contaminated areas, public health advocates have long demanded sweeping federal action.

"The presence of PFAS ingredients in consumer products, including those used by children and adolescents, is not typically disclosed to consumers on product labels," the new paper notes. "The primary goal of this study was to investigate the extent to which other product information available to consumers, such as labeling for stain or water resistance and 'green' (including 'nontoxic') assurances and certifications, can be used by consumers to identify products likely to contain PFAS."

For the study, a team funded by the commonwealth of Massachusetts, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and charitable donations to nonprofit Silent Spring Institute tested 93 products often used by youth for fluorine, a marker of PFAS. They found detectable levels in 54 products. The highest concentration was in a school uniform shirt.

The team also analyzed some of the products for 36 different PFAS and found them only in those marketed as resistant to stains or water, including clothing, pillow protectors, and upholstered furniture. The researchers even found PFOA—which has been phased out in the United States—mostly in items imported from China.

"These are products that children come into close contact with every day and over a long period of time," said study co-author Kathryn Rodgers, a doctoral student at Boston University School of Public Health, in a statement. "Given the toxicity of PFAS and the fact that the chemicals don't serve a critical function, they should not be allowed in products."

In the absence of political measures to outlaw the chemicals and address existing contamination, parents may want to do what they can to limit their families' exposure to PFAS.

"Children's bodies are still developing and are especially sensitive to chemical exposures," said study co-author Laurel Schaider, senior scientist at Silent Spring Institute. "It makes sense that parents would want to steer clear of products that contain ingredients that could impact their children's health now and in the future."

Campaigners are also pressuring major stores to take action in the name of public health.

"Retailers also must play a role in ending this toxic trail of pollution," said Mike Schade, director of Toxic-Free Future's Mind the Store program. "Market power is built on trust. Customers should be able to trust that the retailers where they shop sell products—especially those marketed for children—that are not laden with PFAS forever chemicals."

The new study follows a January report from Toxic-Free Future that showed PFAS in 72% of 47 stain- or water-resistant items, including bedding, hiking pants, raincoats, and tablecloths. It also comes after research from last month that found the chemicals in dollar store products, from canned food packaging and cookware to children's toys.

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