FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | May 04, 2022

Children’s products labeled water- or stain-resistant may contain PFAS, study says

“How Well Do Product Labels Indicate the Presence of PFASs in Consumer Items Used by Children and Adolescents?”
Environmental Science & Technology

Seems like kids are always getting into something, so products marketed toward them often claim to repel liquids. Some items contain potentially harmful per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to accomplish this feat, but companies aren’t required to disclose these “forever chemicals” on labels. Now, researchers reporting in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology show that some children’s products advertised as water- or stain-resistant contain PFAS, even items labeled “green” or “nontoxic.”

Exposure to PFAS through inhalation and ingestion has been linked to a number of health concerns, including decreased effectiveness of vaccines in children, cancers and high cholesterol, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But few studies have looked at potential PFAS exposures among kids and teens from the products they interact with. So, Laurel Schaider and colleagues wanted to see whether these compounds were present in apparel, bedding and furnishings that are marketed to children or expected to be used by them.

The team’s data revealed that 54 of the 93 items surveyed contained fluorine, an indicator of PFAS. Of the fluorine-containing products, 18 had measurable levels of at least one PFAS. A total of 19 had precursor compounds that can be transformed into highly stable perfluoroalkyl acids when oxidized in the environment or the human body. PFAS and their precursors were only found in items specifically labeled with trademarks for water- or stain-resistance, or that used similar wording, such as “waterproof”, “stainproof” or “leak-proof.” Some of these products also had green certifications or claimed to be nontoxic. The team explains that these results were not surprising because many certification processes don’t include a check for PFAS, or they have higher acceptable limits than the levels found in this study. Overall, products marketed toward young consumers as water- or stain-resistant could contain PFAS, which the researchers say represents a nonessential use of these substances. They suggest that these substances be removed to protect children’s health.

The authors acknowledge funding from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health and Silent Spring Institute.

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A children's bedroom, decorated in shades of blue with a teddy bear on the bed and a clothing rack in the background
Some products used by kids and teens labeled as water- or stain-resistant, including apparel, bedding and room furnishings, contain PFAS.
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