High levels of ‘Forever’ PFAS chemicals in children’s school uniforms


By Sydney Murphy Health Day Reporter

health day reporter

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 21, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Your kids’ school clothes may look neat, but are they safe to wear?

Maybe not.

The researchers found high levels of dangerous chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in school uniforms sold throughout North America. These chemicals, which can accumulate in people and in the environment over time, can be harmful to health. They are widely used in consumer and industrial products, as well as in textiles.

Examining a variety of children’s textiles, the researchers found fluoride in 65% of the samples tested. Concentrations were highest in school uniforms, especially those labeled 100% cotton.

“What was surprising about this group of samples was the high frequency of detection of PFAS in the clothes that children should wear,” said study co-author Graham Peaslee, professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame. “Children are a vulnerable population when it comes to chemicals of concern, and no one knows that these textiles are treated with PFAS and other toxic chemicals.

Textile manufacturers use PFAS to make fabrics more stain resistant and more durable.

Known as the “eternal chemicals”, they have been linked to an increased risk of health problems, including weakening immune system, asthma, obesity and problems with brain development and behavior. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention routinely detects PFAS in blood samples from children 3 to 11 years old.

Researchers have estimated that 20% of public schools in the United States require students to wear uniforms, putting millions of children at increased risk of exposure to toxic chemicals. They can be exposed through skin contact with PFAS-treated clothing, inhalation, or ingestion.

This study looked at 72 samples of products purchased online in North America in 2020 and 2021. Investigators looked at products whose labels said they were water-, stain-, wind-, or wrinkle-resistant.

In addition to uniforms, products tested included outerwear such as rain suits, snow suits and mittens; accessories like bibs, hats and baby shoes; as well as sweatshirts, swimsuits and stroller covers.

The study authors added that further studies are needed to learn how chemical concentrations change over a lifetime of use and washing.


“There’s no option for consumers to buy clothes that can be washed instead of clothes coated with chemicals to reduce staining,” Peaslee said. “We hope that one of the results of this work will be increased labeling of textiles to fully inform the buyer of the chemicals used to treat the fabric before sale so that consumers have the opportunity to choose garments that have no not been treated with chemicals for their children.”

The papers were screened for fluorine using particle-induced gamma-ray emission spectroscopy (PIGE), according to a university press release. Peaslee’s lab has previously used the method to detect PFAS in cosmetics, fast food packaging, face masks and firefighting equipment.

Although the United States Environmental Protection Agency has taken steps to have the chemicals officially declared hazardous forever, they are nearly impossible to avoid. The study recalls that PFAS are still used in consumer and industrial products and that they remain in the environment.

Scientists from Notre Dame, Indiana University, University of Toronto and the Green Science Policy Institute collaborated on the study. They published their findings on September 21 in Environmental Science and Technology Letters.

More information

IPEN offers more information on harmful chemicals such as PFAS.

SOURCE: University of Notre Dame, press release, September 21, 2022

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