WEDNESDAY, Sept. 21, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Your kids’ school clothes may look neat, but are they safe to wear?

Maybe not.

Researchers found high levels of dangerous chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in school uniforms sold throughout North America. These chemicals, which can accumulate in people and the environment over time, can be harmful to health. They are widely used in consumer and industrial products, as well as in textiles.

Studying a variety of children’s textiles, the researchers discovered fluorine in 65% of the tested samples. Concentrations were highest in school uniforms, especially those labeled 100% cotton.

“What was surprising about this group of samples was the high frequency of detection of PFAS in clothing that should be worn by children,” said study co-author Graham Peasley, a professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame. “Children are a vulnerable population when it comes to chemicals of concern, and no one knows that these textiles are being treated with PFAS and other toxic chemicals.”

Textile manufacturers use PFAS to make fabrics more stain resistant and durable.

Known as “eternal chemicals,” they have been linked to an increased risk of health problems, including a weakened immune system, asthma, obesity, and problems with brain development and behavior. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention routinely detects PFAS in blood samples from children between the ages of 3 and 11.

Researchers estimate that 20% of public schools in the United States require students to wear uniforms, putting millions of children at greater risk of exposure to toxic chemicals. They can be exposed through skin contact with PFAS-treated clothing, inhalation, or ingestion.

This study examined 72 samples of products purchased online in North America in 2020 and 2021. The researchers looked at products whose labels said to be water, stain, wind or wrinkle resistant.

In addition to uniforms, products tested included outerwear such as raincoats, snowsuits and mittens; accessories such as bibs, hats and baby shoes; as well as sweatshirts, swimwear and stroller covers.

The study authors added that more research is needed to learn how chemical concentrations change over a lifetime of use and washing.

“There is no consumer option to buy clothes that can be washed instead of clothes that are covered in chemicals to remove stains,” Peasley said. “We hope that one outcome of this work will be to expand textile labeling to fully inform the buyer of the chemicals used to treat the fabric before sale, so that consumers can choose clothes for their children that have not been treated with chemicals. ยป

Items were tested for fluoride content particle-induced gamma-ray emission (PIGE) spectroscopy., according to the university’s press release. Peaslee’s lab has previously used this method to detect PFAS in cosmetics, fast food packaging, face masks and fire fighting equipment.

While US Environmental Protection Agency took measures to permanently declare chemicals as dangerous, almost impossible to avoid. The study is a reminder that PFASs are still used in consumer and industrial products and that they persist in the environment.

Scientists from Notre Dame, Indiana University, University of Toronto and the Green Science Policy Institute collaborated on the study. They published their findings on September 21 at Environmental Science and Technology Letters.

Additional information

IPEN offers more information on harmful chemicals such as PFAS.

SOURCE: University of Notre Dame, news release, September 21, 2022

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