School supplies: the great vagueness of chemical substances


September is traditionally a back-to-school month, which translates into a denser-than-usual stationery and other supplies department in stores. However, in recent years, the start of the new school year has been accompanied by several studies conducted by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency , Ademe , UFC Que Choisir and 60 Millions de Consommateurs which have revealed the presence or emission of chemicals (including phthalates , formaldehyde , allergenic substances, etc.) in school or office supplies.

Signals that prompted ANSES to take action on the subject.

Inhaled, ingested or in contact with the skin, some of these chemical substances can cause health effects: certain phthalates (used as plasticizers) can be toxic for reproduction or endocrine disruptors, etc. ; formaldehyde (used as a biocide, in resins or even as a preservative) is skin sensitizing and carcinogenic…

These effects could be observed especially in children, who tend to put certain objects in their mouths. Since these products are used on a daily basis, the Agency has therefore decided to identify the substances that are specifically present in them .

No official categorization of school and office supplies exists today, whether in France, in Europe or in the world. Thus, as part of this study, ANSES carried out research into the various categorizations proposed and combined them together in order to propose its own classification. It is recalled that new technologies (eg tablet) are not considered in this study.

Incomplete regulations and data

In France and in Europe, school supplies are not subject to any specific regulations whatsoever for their composition, manufacture or use.

It should however be noted that the European regulations REACh (which secures the manufacture and use of chemical substances in industry in Europe) and CLP (intended for communication on the dangers of chemical substances and mixtures at European level) apply. , as well as the general product safety directive n°2010/95/EC. Some toys (glitter pens, finger paints, etc.) can also be used as school supplies, but they come under a more restrictive regulatory framework in accordance with Directive 2009/48/EC .

ANSES has therefore produced a summary of the available literature concerning the chemical substances present in or emitted by school and office supplies. She observed that this theme is very poorly documented . Studies on school or office supplies mainly focus on the emission of chemical substances, and to a lesser extent on transfer by skin contact (subject for which there are modeling data).

In the scientific literature, few studies specific to the chemical composition of school supplies have thus been identified. Nevertheless, some institutions have focused on some of them, in particular the Danish EPA. In 2007, the Danish agency, for example, identified the presence of phthalates in gums through composition tests.

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ANSES, 15-09-2022