The results of a new scientific study have revealed that 65% of school uniforms, children’s rain gear, snowsuits, snowshoes, mittens, bibs, hoods and hats contained what scientists consider “high” levels of toxic PFAS chemicals. In school uniforms, the most prevalent PFAS chemical is known as 6:2 FTOH, which is often used to make stain-resistant coatings.
Why should we care?
As we reported in separate pieces recently about a variety of toxic chemicals in clothing, including microplastics in clothes, toxic chemicals in textiles worn against the skin can enter the body through the skin where they can be stored in organs. They can also be inhaled when the microfibers are released into the air during movement. In the case of PFAS, it has been linked in scientific studies to myriad of serious health conditions including cancers, liver disease, kidney problems, reproductive problems, neuro-developmental problems and immune system deficiencies, to name a few. These health risks are particularly problematic for children as their systems and organs are still developing.
Scientists tested 72 different children’s clothing products, including weather-resistant outdoor gear, miscellaneous articles like bibs, hoods, hats, and baby shoes, and 30 stain-resistant school uniforms. Researchers examined the total fluorine in all the products (organic fluorine is considered an indicator of overall PFAS) as a measure of overall PFAS levels. Next, they analyzed a subset of the products to assess the prevalence of 49 specific PFAS compounds.
Fluorine was detected in 65 percent of total samples of children’s clothing. And it was detected in every one of the school uniforms tested. School uniforms also had the overall highest fluorine levels for the specific PFAS chemical known as, “6:2 FTOH”. The PFAS chemicals were found in uniforms made from 100% cotton, cotton spandex and cotton polyester. Higher total targeted PFAS concentrations were found in school uniforms made of 100% cotton than synthetic blends. The only textile in which scientists have found higher levels of PFAS than school uniforms is turnout gear used to protect firefighters. Researchers say there is evidence that 6:2 FTOH—the PFAS found most commonly in school uniforms—is potentially hazardous to health.
What can you do?
Consumers should limit risk from toxic PFAS chemicals by avoiding stain-resistant clothing and other textiles (like throws, bedspreads, etc.) and other household products like carpeting and upholstered furniture. More specifically, avoid clothing with labels of “stain-resistant”, “weather-resistant”, or “waterproof”. Additionally, parents and caregivers should urge schools to order PFAS-free products.
Journal reference: Chunjie Xia, et al. Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in North American School Uniforms, Environmental Science & Technology Journal, Publication Date: September 21, 2022. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.2c02111