High Levels of PFAS ‘Forever’ Chemicals in Kids’ School Uniforms

By Sydney Murphy HealthDay Reporter

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 21 (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 in North America. These chemicals – which can build up in humans and the environment over time – can be harmful to health. They are widely used in consumer and industrial products and textiles.

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

“What was surprising about this group of samples was the high detection rate of PFAS in the clothes children should wear,” said study co-author Graham Peaslee, 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 treated with PFAS and other toxic chemicals.

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

Known as ‘forever 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 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention routinely detect PFAS in blood samples from children ages 3 to 11.

The 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.

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This study looked at 72 samples of products purchased online in North America in 2020 and 2021. The researchers looked at products that the label said were resistant to water, stains, wind or creases.

In addition to uniforms, the products tested included outerwear such as rain suits, snow suits 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 laundering.


“There is no option for consumers to buy clothes that can be washed in place of clothes that are coated with chemicals to reduce stains,” Peaslee said. “We hope that one of the results of this work would be increased labeling of textiles to fully inform the buyer about the chemicals used to treat the fabric prior to sale, giving consumers the opportunity to choose garments that have not been treated with chemicals for their children. ”

The items were screened for fluorine using particle-induced gamma-ray (PIGE) spectroscopy, according to a university press release. Peaslee’s lab has previously used the method to detect PFAS in cosmetics, fast food packaging, face masks and firefighting equipment.

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken steps to have chemicals officially declared hazardous forever, they are nearly impossible to avoid. The study recalls that PFAS are still used in consumer and industrial products and that they remain in the environment.

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

More information

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IPEN provides more information on harmful chemicals such as PFAS.

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

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