Whether inhaled, swallowed or in contact with the skin, some of the chemicals contained in school and office supplies can have adverse health effects. This is true in particular for children, who tend to put things in their mouths.
Identification of several chemicals of concern, including phthalates, fragrances, formaldehyde, and dyes
Several studies undertaken by ADEME, the Danish EPA, and the French consumer organisations 60 Millions de Consommateurs and UFC Que Choisir have found that various chemicals are contained in or emitted by school and office supplies. Since these products are used on a daily basis, especially by children, the Agency decided to conduct a review of current knowledge on the topic.
Based on the available scientific literature and exchanges with consumer associations and trade federations of manufacturers and distributors, the Agency indicates that the most commonly identified classes of chemicals are as follows:
- volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including formaldehyde, chloroform, and toluene
- heavy metals such as hexavalent chromium, cadmium, nickel, and lead
- perfluorinated compounds (PFAs)
- bisphenol A
- isothiazolinones and other preservatives
- polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
Apply the regulations on toy safety to school supplies
In France and Europe, the composition, manufacture and use of school supplies are not covered by any specific regulations aiming to ensure their safety.
Given how they are used, certain school supplies such as paint, marker pens and coloured pencils are considered as toys, which means that carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic (CMR) substances cannot be used for their manufacture. The Agency stresses the need to apply the European regulations on the safety of toys (Directive 2009/48/EC) to all school supplies. This regulatory development would help reduce or even eliminate most of the substances that are currently contained in school supplies, for example fragrances, phthalates, certain metals, and PAHs.
Pending such a regulatory development, I would advise consumers to choose supplies that do not contain fragrances, glitter, etc. that can cause children to misuse them by chewing or swallowing them, for example.
The Agency also calls on manufacturers and distributors to eliminate certain fragrances and classes of fragrances regardless of any regulatory developments. Moreover, although these products are required to comply with the regulations in force in normal conditions of use, it also recommends that manufacturers take into account foreseeable behaviours and uses such as chewing to ensure their safety.
Monitor the products on the market and take samples on a regular basis
The Agency underlines the importance of regularly monitoring the products available on the market to ensure that they comply with the current regulations.
For the most commonly used school and office supplies, more in-depth tests on the composition of products and on emissions and transfers could also be undertaken in order to verify whether or not these products contain unregulated chemicals. These tests could be performed by consumer associations, public agencies or research laboratories. The results would help improve knowledge on the composition of the products on the market and would also enable their potential health risks to be assessed.