• Fluorine was found in 65% of children's textiles that were tested
  • Presence of PFAS was higher in uniforms marked as 100% cotton than synthetic ones
  • PFA's presence opens multiple routes for exposure – skin contact, inhalation, and ingestion

School uniforms in North America have been added to the list of items contaminated with PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) or "forever chemicals."

The study that made the revelation was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. Researchers from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana University, the University of Toronto, and the Green Science Policy Institute were involved in the study, and found fluorine in 65% of children's textiles that were tested.

Among all the different clothing items, the prevalence of PFAS was the highest in school uniforms. They were even higher in uniforms marked as 100% cotton than synthetic ones.

"What was surprising about this group of samples was the high detection frequency of PFAS in the garments required for children to wear," co-author, Graham Peaslee, professor of physics at Notre Dame said.

"Children are a vulnerable population when it comes to chemicals of concern, and nobody knows these textiles are being treated with PFAS and other toxic chemicals," Peaslee added.

Around 20% of public schools in the U.S. mandate wearing school uniforms. This translates to millions of children, who may be at risk from the toxic chemicals.

The presence of PFAS in clothing opens multiple routes for exposure – skin contact, inhalation, and ingestion.

It should not come as a surprise then that PFAS are routinely found in blood samples of children between the ages of 3 and 11, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys undertaken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

PFAS are not to be taken lightly, as these chemicals accumulate in the blood and can cause health problems. They have been linked to an increase in harmful effects like weakened immune systems, asthma, obesity, and neurodevelopmental and behavioral problems.

The study sample consisted of 72 products that were bought online in U.S. and Canadian markets in the years 2020 and 2021. The different items that were tested included rain suits, snowsuits, mittens, bibs, hats, baby shoes, sweatshirts, swimwear, stroller covers, and of course, uniforms.

More attention was given to products that were labeled as water or stain-resistant, windproof, or wrinkle-resistant by the research team.

"There is no consumer option to purchase clothing that can be washed instead of clothing that comes coated with chemicals to reduce stains," Peaslee said.

"We hope one of the outcomes of this work would be increased labeling of textiles to fully inform the purchaser of the chemicals used to treat the fabric prior to the sale so consumers have the ability to pick garments that were not treated with chemicals for their children," Peaslee concluded.

Representational image (School classroom)
Representational image (Source: Pixabay / Wokandapix)