A number of children’s products labelled as ‘green’ and ‘non-toxic’ have been found to contain toxic PFAS chemicals, which can pose a threat to human health.
Clothing, furniture and bedding aimed at children, and produced by a number of leading brands, were among the products found to contain PFAS, by a team from the Silent Spring Institute in Newton, Massachusetts.
Some products, labelled as being ‘green’ or ‘non-toxic’ were among the items, many of which were water resistant. Products came from a range of brands including Columbia, Old Navy, Gap and Lands’ End, among others.
PFAS are a class of more than 9,000 chemicals that companies add to a wide variety of consumer products to make them non-stick, waterproof, and stain-resistant.
With more consumers demanding products free of toxic ingredients, discerning which ones might be harmful and which ones are safe isn’t easy, the team said.
‘The findings demonstrate the pervasiveness of PFAS in products and the challenges for consumers trying to avoid toxic chemicals in their everyday lives,’ they said.
Studies have linked PFAS with a range of health effects including cancers, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, low birth weight, and asthma, and a number of states have passed legislation to prevent manufacturers including PFAS in products.
Most of the products tested by the team had been manufactured in China for US brands, they explained.
A number of children’s products labelled as ‘green’ and ‘non-toxic’ have been found to contain toxic PFAS chemicals, which can pose a threat to human health. Stock image
Clothing, furniture and bedding aimed at children, and produced by a number of leading brands, were among the products found to contain PFAS, by a team from the Silent Spring Institute in Newton, Massachusetts. Stock image
As well as the cancer risk, there is also evidence that PFAS can suppress the immune system, potentially weakening the effectiveness of childhood vaccines and the body’s ability to fight infections, according to study co-author Dr Laurel Schaider.
‘Children’s bodies are still developing and are especially sensitive to chemical exposures. 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.’
For instance, consumers often look for products labeled as ‘green’ or ‘nontoxic’ when trying to avoid toxic chemicals, but this could be misleading, she said.
Schaider and her colleagues wanted to learn whether that’s an effective strategy for avoiding products with PFAS or whether there are other ways of determining if a product contains PFAS, so set about testing 93 different products.
These were aimed at children and young people, and included bedding, furnishings and clothing items from a number of brands.
The researchers specifically chose products that were labeled as stain-resistant, water-resistant, ‘green’ or ‘nontoxic,’ and started with a test for fluorine, which acts as a marker for PFAS in rapid screening tests.
Some products, labelled as being ‘green’ or ‘non-toxic’ were among the items, many of which were water resistant. Products came from a range of brands including Columbia, Old Navy, Gap and Lands’ End, among others. Stock image
PFAS are a class of more than 9,000 chemicals that companies add to a wide variety of consumer products to make them non-stick, waterproof, and stain-resistant. Stock image
They first used a rapid screening method to test the products for fluorine—a marker of PFAS, and found 54 of the products had a detectable level.
The highest single concentration of fluoride was found in a school uniform shirt.
Products advertised as water- or stain-resistant, even those labeled as ‘green’ or ‘non-toxic,’ were more likely to contain fluorine and also have higher concentrations of fluorine compared with other products.
PERFLUOROALKYL AND POLYFLUOROALKYL SUBSTANCES (PFAS)
PFAS are a complex, and expanding group of manufactured chemicals that are widely used to make various types of everyday products.
They keep food from sticking to cookware, make clothes and carpets resistant to stains, and create firefighting foam that is more effective.
PFAS are used in industries such as aerospace, automotive, construction, electronics, and military.
PFAS molecules are made up of a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms.
Because the carbon-fluorine bond is one of the strongest, these chemicals do not degrade in the environment.
In fact, scientists are unable to estimate an environmental half-life for PFAS, which is the amount of time it takes 50 per cent of the chemical to disappear.
Research on two kinds of PFAS forms the basis of our scientific understanding about this group of chemicals.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) were manufactured for the longest time, are the most widespread in the environment, and are the most well-studied.
Although these two compounds are no longer made in the US, chemical manufacturers have replaced them with alternative PFAS, such as GenX.
The researchers then tested a subset of products for 36 different PFAS chemicals, only finding them in products labeled as water- or stain-resistant, regardless of whether they were marketed as ‘green’ or ‘nontoxic.’
PFAS were detected most frequently in upholstered furniture, clothing, and pillow protectors, with pillow protectors and clothing higher than other products.
PFOA, a legacy PFAS that has been phased out in the US, was detected in a variety of products, including those labeled as ‘green.’
‘These are products that children come into close contact with every day and over a long period of time. Given the toxicity of PFAS and the fact that the chemicals don’t serve a critical function, they should not be allowed in products,’ says co-author Kathryn Rodgers, a doctoral student at Boston University School of Public Health.
In addition to items such as carpets, upholstery, and apparel, PFAS are also used in everyday items such as non-stick cookware, food packaging, and cosmetics.
The new study’s findings highlight the need for green certifiers to include PFAS in their criteria and to conduct a more thorough review of the products they certify, says Rodgers.
Green certifications are created by third party organizations and offer assurances that a product does not contain certain harmful chemicals. However, certifications vary in their safety standards and they don’t all cover the same list of chemicals.
‘Retailers also must play a role in ending this toxic trail of pollution,’ says 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.’
Toxic-Free Future released a report in January, which found PFAS widespread in water- and stain-resistant apparel and other textiles sold at top retailers.
California passed legislation banning the use of PFAS in certain infant and children’s products and is now considering a bill to ban PFAS in textiles.
Washington State passed a bill aimed at phasing out PFAS in a range of products including apparel, cosmetics, and firefighter gear by 2025.
Anew law in Maine prohibits the sale of all products with intentionally added PFAS, except products where the use of PFAS is unavoidable, starting in 2030.
Massachusetts introduced a bill that would prohibit the use of PFAS in common household products, including carpeting, cookware, and cosmetics.
The findings have been published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.