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Asbestos in crayons, lead in water bottles: What's really on that supply list?

Consumer-conscious parents packing vegan lunches and buying organic cotton T-shirts this school year might be concerned to hear everyday school supplies contain toxic ingredients that children should not be exposed to, according to tests done by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

None of the chemicals found in the supplies exceeded levels allowed by law. But PIRG is calling for those laws to be re-examined.

And now, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is calling for a federal investigation.

The tests found:

  • Trace amounts of asbestos in Playskool crayons.
  • So-called BTEX compounds in dry erase markers from EXPO and the Board Dudes
  • Jot brand 1-inch 3-ring binders containing phthalates.

The group also tested lunch boxes, glue, rulers and notebooks without incident. The water bottles it tested were fine, too, but the report noted families may not be aware of recent recalls and should check their cupboards for bottles that have been considered unsafe. That would include Base Brands' Reduce Hydro Pro bottles and LL Bean's GSI Outdoors bottles, both brands of which were previously recalled for containing illegal levels of lead.

Asbestos can cause cancer or respiratory disease if eaten or inhaled. BETX compounds include the carcinogen benzene and the endocrine disruptors toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Phthalates have been linked to asthma, child obesity and low IQ scores. Lead can impede brain and nervous system development.

PIRG wants a ban on BTEX compounds, asbestos and phthalates. Phthalates are already banned in children's toys and care items.

The Dollar Tree, where the products were purchased, and Playskool, which licensed the production of its crayons to the company Leap Year, said the products passed its own internal testing.

"Our company utilizes a very stringent and independent testing program to ensure our supplier products meet or exceed all safety and legal standards," said Kayleigh Painter, a company spokesperson, in an email. "We are aware of the report and have since re-verified that each of the listed products successfully passed inspection and testing."

Schumer this week urged the Consumer Product Safety Commission to act immediately, asking it to investigate the products, share its findings and recall any affected items before they wind up in kids' backpacks this school year.

"With back-to-school season already in full swing, millions of parents are stocking up on school supplies in order to prepare their children for the upcoming school year. In order to complete this process in a manner that ensures parents can make informed decisions, it is critical that they be armed with information that enables safe purchasing choices," Schumer wrote in a letter to the CPSC.

In the meantime, PIRG put out a shopping guide with recommendations for alternate products it tested and found to be free of toxic chemicals. It includes Elmers glue, Thermos brand lunch boxes and Crayola, Rose Art and Target brand crayons.

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