paint and crayons

[It pays to read the label] Keep your child safe from toxic school supplies

Written by

Sunday, 15 June 2014 - Last Updated on March 18, 2015
paint and crayons

paint and crayonsIt’s school time once again and parents are flocking to books stores to buy school supplies for their children. Due to tight budget, most parents choose cheaper and sometimes unbranded supplies to cut on cost. But unknown to parents, there are many low-quality school supplies in the market that poses hazardous risks to children.      

Children are more vulnerable to chemical poisoning because their bodies are still developing. Poisoning happens when chemical particles from school supplies enter the body either by ingestion, inhalation or skin absorption. Young and old alike can be affected by chemical poisoning.

To help parents be aware of the dangers of toxic school supplies, here is a quick information and safety guide:

Types of toxic chemicals

Toxic chemicals or toxins can be present in a wide range of school products. You may not even think that a simple rubber eraser or coloring pen has dangerous amount of toxins based on the product’s appearance and label. It is very important to scrutinize each product before buying.

Lead – found in products with colors and paint such as crayons, water color, poster paint, as well as pencils, blackboards and bags.

Phthalates – found in polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene (PS), polycarbonate (PC) plastics which are usually used in school bags and colorful lunch boxes. The chemical has been banned for use in toys in the U.S. and a number of developed countries but it is still alarmingly used in other products such as school supplies. In the Philippines, the use of phthalates in toys and other products is only and not banned. A found that 75% of school supplies contain phthalates. The amount of phthalates found in bags disturbingly exceeded the limit set for toys.

read the label

Effect of toxins

These harmful chemicals can easily enter the body because of their minute particles. Remember that these toxins can get into your child’s body through constant contact with the skin. If you think that your child’s school bag is cute and harmless, think again. The mere use of a phthalate and lead-laden backpack may still cause harm. Frequent use of these school materials increases their exposure to toxins.

Here are few of the adverse effects of toxins to children’s developing bodies:


  • Mental retardation, learning difficulties, lower intelligence quotient (IQ) scores,
  • Growth delays
  • Behavioral problems such as irritability,
  • Anemia
  • Hearing loss
  • Kidney injury
  • Reproductive problems
  • Problems involving the cardiovascular, immune and skeletal systems


  • Cancer
  • Obesity
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • ADHD
  • Infertility
  • Early puberty
  • Birth defects

Choosing safe alternatives

Read up and be informed. The first defense against these toxic products is to avoid buying them by reading the labels. Lead-free school supplies must contain the label “NON-TOXIC.” Branded supplies such as crayons, paint, glue, etc. carry the safety label. Those very cheap, non-branded products with labels written in foreign (except English) language are risky to go for.

To determine if the products have PVC, see if it has “vinyl” on the packaging. Look for the universal recycling symbol. If the product has the number “3” written on it, or the letters “V” or “PVC”, the product is made from PVC.

Look for the manufacturer’s information such as “license to operate”, the brand or trade mark, name and address of manufacturer/ distributor/ importer, country of manufacture/origin (if imported), net quantity, and toxicity warnings.  This is a must to make sure that they are compliant with government regulations.

Go for non-plastic and non-painted products. In most cases, reading the label does not apply as prevention measure. Bags, raincoats, boots, lunchboxes and other similar supplies (particularly those that are flexible) do not contain labels and product description which show you what hazardous chemicals are in them.

To be sure, it is best to avoid those with plastic and vinyl materials as well as those decorated in paint.  Kids usually like their supplies, especially their bags adorned with their favorite cartoon characters. But parents should know better, so it would not really hurt them if you buy the less attractive but safe options.

Know product quality standards. Depending on the product, each has its own quality standards which you can put to test before or after buying. Below are few information on product types:

  • Crayons: Under normal temperature, crayons should not easily bend.
  • Pencils:   Graphite in pencils must not break easily when used or sharpened. The pencils should also indicate their hardness symbol number (1, 2, or 3).
  • Ballpens:  Pens should work smoothly even after being stored for at least three months.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said it would like consumers to understand that budget should not compromise product safety and reliability; and that school supplies that conform to standards’ requirements for performance and safety provide best value for their money.” “It is tempting to just grab whatever is cheap from the shelves for families to maximize their budget, said DTI Consumer Protection Group (CPG) undersecretary Victorio Mario Dimagiba.

The Department of Health may be reached for those who want to make sure that the school supplies are toxic-free. Meanwhile, complaints on conspicuous or incomplete labels of school supplies may be reported to DTI at 751.3330 or 0917 8343330.

Images by the author. Some rights reserved.

Amihan Euza Mabalay (24 Posts)

Write a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>