School uniform chemicals pose health risk to children

School uniform chemicals pose health risk to children

School uniforms may pose a health risk to children, research suggests.

Tests showed items like blazers, shirts and ties contained notably high levels of 'forever chemicals'.

PFAS, as they are scientifically known, are feared to stunt youngsters' growth and have been linked to cancer and infertility.

The chemicals, designed to make surfaces stain- and water-resistant, don't break down naturally in the environment, hence their nickname.  

One of the study authors, Dr Marta Venier, from Indiana University, said: 'PFAS don’t belong in any clothing.

'But their use in school uniforms is particularly concerning.

'Uniforms are worn directly on the skin for up to eight hours per day by children, who are particularly vulnerable to harm.' 

PFAS have for decades been added to textiles to prevent staining. They're also used in cookware, children's toys and can now be found in some water supplies. 

Children are exposed to the substances from clothing by direct skin contact, and the inhalation or ingestion of fibres. 

They can accumulate in the bloodstream.

Fellow researcher Professor Miriam Diamond, of University of Toronto, said: 'I don’t know any parent who values stain repellency over their child’s health.'

Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute — which was involved in the research, called for urgent action. 

She said: 'To protect our children and future generations, the whole class of PFAS should be eliminated from school uniforms and all other products where they are not essential.

'Manufacturers can prevent harm by moving away from PFAS as soon as possible.'

Only a fifth of American public-school children wear a uniform. But they are far more common in the UK.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, analysed 72 product samples bought in the US and Canada between 2020 and 2021.

Experts focused on items items labelled as stain, water or wrinkle resistant.

They also looked at other children's clothing, such as sweatshirts, swimwear, bibs and mittens. 

PFAS concentrations were highest in school uniforms, particularly in items labelled as 100 per cent cotton. 

Researchers said further studies now need to be carried out to explore if PFAS exposure through clothing changed over years of use and after multiple washings. 

The chemicals, known properly as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been linked to an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer.

Studies have also suggested they damage the immune system and raise the risk of birth defects.