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“Non-Toxic” Fun: Dangerous Chemicals Found in School Supplies

By Krystal Yang

In August 2018, researchers from The United States Public interest Research Group Education
Fund discovered dangerous chemicals in everyday school supplies, from crayons to dry-erase
Specifically, the group tested Playskool crayons, and one green crayon tested positive for trace
amounts of tremolite: a form of asbestos. This chemical could have formed from the talc used in
manufacturing the crayon, the Education Fund reports. While asbestos is a naturally occurring
mineral substance, it is highly toxic. Because asbestos fibers are microscopic, they cannot be
seen, smelled, or tasted; the lack of immediate symptoms from inhaling or swallowing asbestos
also means that it can take 20-50 years for a person to develop asbestos-related illnesses (such
as obstructive pulmonary disease). Our bodies are not built to dissolve asbestos fibers, and
these fibers can cause inflammation, scarring, and genetic damage to our body cells. Inhaled or
ingested asbestos can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma (an aggressive and deadly form
of cancer that occurs in the thin layers of tissue that covers the majority of internal organs).
Similarly, two dry-erase markers tested positive for a group of carcinogenic products known as
B.T.E.X.: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene. B.T.E.X. chemicals occur naturally in
crude oil, near natural gas and petroleum deposits. However, high exposure to B.T.E.X.
chemicals yield severe health consequences. Benzene especially is extremely dangerous:
rates of leukemia have been found to be higher in studies of workers exposed to high levels of
benzene. In the short-term, however, small doses of benzene can lead to drowsiness, dizziness,
vomiting, and skin irritation.
Finally, a 3-ring binder tested positive for traces of phthalates. Phthalates are industrial
chemicals used to soften plastics. According to animal studies, exposure to high levels of
phthalates can damage the liver, kidney, lungs, and reproductive system. Young children are the most vulnerable to phthalates, which is extremely concerning given the fact that school supplies
are marketed to children.

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