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Children’s school uniforms are loaded with potentially dangerous PFAS chemicals, according to a study published today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
PFAS—per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, known as “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down or do so extremely slowly—are often added to products to make them waterproof, stain resistant, or nonstick. But many of these uses have come under scrutiny in recent years, because various PFAS have been linked to a growing list of health problems, including immune system suppression, increased risk for certain cancers, liver disease, and neurodevelopmental problems.
These health risks are especially concerning for children, who are smaller than adults and still developing. “In general, children experience adverse health outcomes at lower internal concentrations” of PFAS, says Jamie DeWitt, PhD, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., who studies the health effects of PFAS, and who was not involved with the new study.
About 25 percent of U.S. children wear school uniforms, which are especially common in low-income and elementary schools, as well as in Catholic and other private schools. Stain resistance may be desirable in school uniforms, but it’s not essential, DeWitt says. And many parents may not be aware of the potential risks posed by chemicals in uniforms.
PFAS chemicals are risky enough that these findings should trigger concern, says Marta Venier, PhD, an environmental chemist and assistant professor at Indiana University in Bloomington and the senior author of the new study. “We think parents would rather wash their clothes more than expose their kids to toxic chemicals,” she says.
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