As school restarts in Park-Ex, shopping for school supplies is a thrill for all young Park-exers. However, pencils, pens, highlighters, tubes of glue may have hidden health dangers: toxic and carcinogenic chemicals have been found in many school supplies in Europe. Some of these products are even on the shelves of Quebec stores.
At the end of August, the consumer defense association in France published an alarming report: 40% of school supplies tested are made with potentially dangerous components. “Manufacturers – including the big brands – thus expose children very widely to sometimes considerable doses of toxic, carcinogenic, allergenic compounds or endocrine disruptors”, one can read on the website of the Federal Consumers’ Union Que choisir.
In July, the National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES), the equivalent of Health Canada in France, also revealed the presence of several families of dangerous chemical substances in school supplies, such as heavy metals, such as nickel and lead, benzene and perfluorines.
“If there are no regulations or instructions surrounding their sale, there is a good chance that we will also find these substances in school supplies [in Quebec]”, maintains Maximilien Debia, professor in the department of environmental health and occupational health from the School of Public Health of the University of Montreal.
Watch out for pens!
The survey results were particularly concerning for ballpoint pens, which were found to be “full of carcinogens”. Some products of the Bic and Paper Mate brands, which are also found in Quebec, contained impurities classified as “probable carcinogens”.
“If we are exposed from a young age to potentially carcinogenic substances and if we continue throughout our schooling to be exposed to the same office supplies, the risk of having cancer is multiplied”, explains the director of the Eau Terre Environnement Center and associate professor at the National Institute for Scientific Research, Louise Hénault-Ethier.
Children, by staining their fingers with inks or by chewing the tips of their pens and pencils, can be exposed to a large number of these harmful compounds. Until there are stricter regulations, the consumer protection association advises parents not to buy ballpoint pens for their children.
Highlighters do quite well in their composition. However, the Association “strongly” advises against the original Stabilo Boss, which can be found in many Quebec stores.
“Its ink is far too full of allergens”, denounces the Association on its website. Indeed, isothiazolinones, which are compounds that increase the risk of triggering allergies, were found in large numbers in the product.
The Association also recommends avoiding the Pilot brand FRIXION blue erasable gel pen, which also contains a high allergen content.
Good news however for the very young Park-exers, Crayola’s ultra-washable drawing pens are on the honor roll, without the slightest carcinogenic or allergenic compound.
The Bic, Paper Mate and Pilot brands did not respond to requests from the media. For its part, the company Stabilo indicated that it “guarantees the safety and quality of its products”. “STABILO BOSS meets all legal requirements and is safe whether used as intended on paper or even when used unintentionally, for example by accidentally marking the skin,” the company said.