ALERT: Study warns of toxic chemicals found in crayons, back-to-school items

It's that time of year again, back-to-school shopping

Parents who are preparing their children for school should be aware of dangerous, toxic chemicals that have been found in some popular school supplies, according to recent tests conducted by U.S. PIRG. 

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group released findings this week from tests on school supplies that confirmed the presence of asbestos in some brands of crayons, phthalates in binders, and carcinogens in markers, among other potentially harmful chemicals contained in school products.

U.S. PIRG found that Playskool brand crayons sold in Dollar Tree stores contained trace amounts of asbestos, a known carcinogen. Three-ring binders contained high levels of phthalates, and dry-erase markers contained benzene. 

It is legal for crayons to contain asbestos in the United States; however, scientists have pointed out that it is unnecessary to expose kids to it.


U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff sent 27 school supplies to an independent laboratory to test for chemicals of concern. The problems they found included: 

  • Crayons. They tested six types of crayons for asbestos and one tested positive for tremolite: Playskool crayons (36 count) that they purchased at Dollar Tree. They tested the green color crayon. Asbestos is a known carcinogen and can lead to serious health conditions, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. 
  • 3-ring binders. They tested three 3-ring binders for phthalates, and one tested positive for phthalates: Jot-brand blue binder from Dollar Tree contained 240,000 parts per million (ppm) DEHP, and 8,000 ppm DINP. Research has documented the potential damage of exposure to phthalates at crucial stages of development. Studies have linked phthalates to asthma, childhood obesity and lower IQ scores.
  • Water bottles. They tested two water bottles, both of which tested negative for the presence of lead. Two products reviewed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have been recalled for high levels of lead.
  • Markers. They tested two brands of washable markers for BTEX compounds that tested negative. They tested two types of dry-erase markers for benzene and phthalates, which tested negative for phthalates. One tested positive for benzene. Benzene is a probable carcinogen linked to dangerous disruptions in sexual reproduction, liver and kidney function and immune system functioning.

The U.S. PIRG released this helpful guide to inform parents of brands that may contain chemicals that could be harmful to their children. Their researchers test an assortment of supplies across the country.

The group is recommending that parents and teachers look for the Art and Creative Materials “AP” label, which indicates that the product is nontoxic. For items not certified by the ACMI, parents should look for a manufacturer's label certifying that the product meets CPSC guidelines for children.