High levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been found on school uniforms available throughout the US and Canada, potentially exposing millions of children to these compounds (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2022, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.2c02111). Exposure to PFAS has been associated with a wealth of negative health effects, including reduced vaccine effectiveness as well as increased risk of liver disease and cancer.
According to the study’s senior author Marta Venier, an environmental chemist at Indiana University, children are especially vulnerable to these health risks due to their small size and developing bodies. “We really don’t need more information to decide that it’s not a good idea to use PFAS in children’s items,” she says.
Yet PFAS are frequently applied to uniforms in order to make them more stain resistant. Once they’re applied, researchers suspect that a fraction of these compounds could be absorbed by children’s skin whenever the garment is worn. Some of the more volatile PFAS, like 6:2 fluorotelomer alcohol (6:2 FTOH)—the main compound Venier and her colleagues found in the analyzed uniform brands—could also enter the body through inhalation. In addition, the PFAS can be released into the environment every time the uniforms are washed.
Currently, states like California are pushing to eliminate the use of PFAS in textiles. “This is a great step in the right direction,” Venier says. However, because the ban won’t go into effect until January 2025, she recommends that parents pay close attention to clothing labels and forgo buying items marked as stain resistant. Additional advice has been made available by the Green Science Policy Institute, who collaborated on the study.