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Back-to-school study finds high levels of phthalate chemicals in kids backpacks, supplies

phthalates, toxins
Children's backpacks found by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice to contain "toxic" phthalates Flickr/CHEJ

(CBS News) Children's back-to-school backpacks and other supplies may contain higher levels of potentially toxic chemicals than the government allows in most toys, a new study shows.

Pictures: Toxins found in school supplies

The study found that about 75 percent of children's school supplies contain high levels of potentially toxic phthalates. New York Sen. Charles Schumer called for new laws to regulate the chemical while discussing the report, which was released by the advocacy group Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) on Sunday.

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"School supplies are supposed to help our children with their education, they shouldn't be harming their health," Schumer said in an emailed press release. "We don't allow high levels of these toxic chemicals in children's toys and we certainly shouldn't allow them in back-to-school products. When kids take their lunch to school this fall, they shouldn't be carrying it in a lunchbox laden with toxic chemicals."

The study, Hidden Hazards: Toxic Chemicals Inside Children's Vinyl Back-to-School Supplies, was published on the CHEJ website.

The CHEJ  says phthalates are a class of chemical used to soften vinyl plastic that are hazardous at even low levels of exposure. Phthalates have been linked to birth defects, early puberty, infertility, asthma, ADHD, obesity, and diabetes.

For the investigation, scientists randomly purchased and tested 20 back-to-school items from New York City dollar stores and other retailers. They found Disney's Dora the Explorer Backpack contained phthalate levels over 69 times higher than the allowable federal limit for toys. The Amazing Spiderman Lunchbox contained 27 times the federal limit, while the Disney Princess Lunchbox exceeded the toy limit by 29 times. Children's rain coats, rain boots and 3-ring binders also were found to contain the toxins.

In light of the findings, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said he would push for the Safe Chemicals Act, a bill co-sponsored by New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg. The act would give the Environmental Protection Agency more authority to regulate chemicals used in consumer products.

"It's time for Congress to move forward and pass the Safe Chemicals Act to protect our children and schools from toxic exposure," Mike Schade of CHEJ said in a statement.

Besides plastics, the chemical is also found in personal care and beauty products, adhesives, electronics, toys, packaging and even some medication coatings.

Previous research suggests phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals that may alter hormone regulation and other mechanisms in the body. A recent study tied phthalates to an increased risk of diabetes for some women.

High levels of phthalate exposure through the use of plastic medical devices for feeding, medicating and assisting the breathing of newborn infants, may affect the male reproductive development, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

In 2010, 60 Minutes reported on pediatricians finding an alarming increase in deformed sex organs for newborn baby boys:

Phthalates: Are They Safe? 13:19

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