School uniforms are abundant in toxic ‘forever’ chemicals linked to cancer, infertility and dementia.

Watch out for… school uniforms! Study finds they’re abundant in ‘forever’ toxic chemicals linked to cancer and infertility

  • Experts who tested the clothes found that school uniforms are full of ‘forever chemicals’
  • Called PFAS, these stain-resistant industrial chemicals do not naturally degrade
  • They have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, as well as rates of obesity and asthma.
  • 20% of American children wear school uniforms, but this rises to 98% in the UK.

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School uniforms can pose a health risk to children, research suggests.

Tests showed that items such as jackets, shirts and ties contained remarkably high levels of ‘forever chemicals’.

PFAS, as they are known scientifically, are feared to stunt the growth of the young and have been linked to cancer and infertility.

The chemicals, designed to make surfaces stain and water resistant, do not naturally break down in the environment, hence their nickname.

One of the study’s authors, Dr. Marta Venier of Indiana University, said, “PFAS don’t belong in any clothing.”

A study found that children's school uniforms are full of 'forever' industrial substances that have been linked to an increased risk of cancer and infertility later in life (stock image)

A study found that children’s school uniforms are full of ‘forever’ industrial substances that have been linked to an increased risk of cancer and infertility later in life (stock image)

What ARE ‘forever chemicals’?

‘Forever chemicals’ are a class of common industrial compounds that do not break down when released into the environment.

Humans are exposed to these chemicals after coming into contact with food, soil, or water bodies.

These chemicals, more correctly known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are added to cookware, rugs, textiles, and other items to make them more water and stain repellant.

PFAS contamination has been detected in water near manufacturing facilities, as well as at military bases and fire-fighting training facilities where flame-retardant foam is used.

The chemicals have been linked to an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer, and damage to the immune system, as well as birth defects, lower birth weight, and decreased response to the vaccine in children.

“But its use on school uniforms is particularly worrying.

“The uniforms are worn directly on the skin for up to eight hours a day by children, who are particularly vulnerable to damage.”

PFAS have been added to textiles for decades to prevent staining. They are also used in cookware, children’s toys, and can now be found in some water supplies.

Children are exposed to substances on clothing by direct skin contact and by inhalation or ingestion of fibers.

They can accumulate in the bloodstream.

Fellow researcher Professor Miriam Diamond, from the University of Toronto, said: “I don’t know of any parents who value stain repellency over their child’s health.”

Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute, which was involved in the research, called for urgent action.

She said: ‘To protect our children and future generations, the entire class of PFAS must be removed from school uniforms and all other products where they are not essential.

“Manufacturers can prevent harm by moving away from PFAS as soon as possible.”

Only a fifth of American public school children wear a uniform. But they are much more common in the UK.

The study, published in the journal Environmental science and technology letteringanalyzed 72 samples of products purchased in the US and Canada between 2020 and 2021.

The experts focused on items labeled as stain-resistant, water-resistant, or wrinkle-resistant.

'Chemicals forever' and the impacts of their exposure to human health were the focus of the 2019 legal thriller 'Dark Waters', starring Mark Ruffalo

'Chemicals forever' and the impacts of their exposure to human health were the focus of the 2019 legal thriller 'Dark Waters', starring Mark Ruffalo

‘Chemicals forever’ and the impacts of their exposure to human health were the focus of the 2019 legal thriller ‘Dark Waters’, starring Mark Ruffalo

They also looked at other children’s clothing, such as sweatshirts, swimsuits, bibs and mittens.

PFAS concentrations were highest in school uniforms, particularly in items labeled 100 percent cotton.

The researchers said further studies should now be done to explore whether PFAS exposure through clothing changed over years of wear and after multiple washings.

The chemicals, properly known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been linked to an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer.

Studies have also suggested that they damage the immune system and increase the risk of birth defects.

There are about 5,000 different types of chemicals.

They appeared in the 2019 Hollywood film Dark Waters, starring Mark Ruffalo, after a community’s water was poisoned by chemicals from the local plant.

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