Guide to lead-free back to school products


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For nearly four years, we have been warning you about lead found in lunch boxes and backpacks. What a difference a few years makes.

Carolyn Cox is research director at the Center of Environmental Health in Oakland. She demonstrated for us how she puts a pencil pouch into an x-ray fluorescence analyzer to measure its content for lead and PVC, a chemical often made with lead, phthalates and other toxics. That is something parents have been paying a lot more attention to during the past few years.

"Both my kids had lunch boxes with lead content stuff so I got rid of them and I'm kind of confused how to not get it," said parent Wendy Barry-Owen of Oakland.

Cox says parents can feel a sense of relief from the latest findings.

"In our testing this year we found very, very few problems," said Cox. "We found one backpack with lead problems and then we did find this pencil pouch with lead problems."

Cox says that pencil pouch sold by Staples tested 15 times above the federal standard for lead content. She says an Everest brand backpack sold by Walgreens tested 20 times above the federal standard for lead.

Overall, Cox gives the back to school industry a "B" for getting the lead out.

New federal standards passed by Congress imposed strict lead limits and multi-million dollar penalties for violators. Successful lawsuits filed by the Center for Environmental Health and other groups have helped as well.

Still, parents need to be cautious.

"The other thing is then there's a wave of new ones that come out that say lead-free, but then a few months later, you find out that actually meant something different than you thought," said Barry-Owen,

That's why the new "Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies" is being released.

"Like Jansport, for example. All of their backpacks are PVC-free. L.L. Bean and Lands End, all of their back to school supplies are PVC-free," said Cox.

7 On Your Side talked to Staples about the findings. It says it will conduct its own tests and decide whether to continue to sell the pencil pouch within a few days. Walgreens did not get back to us by deadline.

LINK: The Back to School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies

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