PFAS in School Uniforms
PFAS are harmful and unnecessary additions to school uniforms
Our joint peer-reviewed research found high concentrations of PFAS in school uniforms from the United States and Canada. This is concerning as uniforms are worn directly on the skin for about eight hours per day by children, who are particularly vulnerable to harmful chemicals. Some PFAS have been associated with cancer, infertility, reduced vaccine effectiveness, and more. Because of the potential for harm, we’re working with manufacturers and policymakers to stop the use of these chemicals in school uniforms and other textiles.
In collaboration with Indiana University, the University of Toronto, the University of Notre Dame, and ETH Zurich/Empa, we tested “stain-resistant” school uniforms from nine popular brands. We detected PFAS in all samples, and most had concentrations as high as those in outdoor clothing. See the full study in Environmental Science & Technology and our press release for more details.
PFAS in treated uniforms may end up in children through skin absorption, as well as from eating with unwashed hands or hand-to-mouth behaviors, and mouthing of clothing by younger children. The fluorotelomer alcohols, most dominant in the uniforms, also pose an inhalation risk. Furthermore, PFAS-treated uniforms are a source of PFAS contamination in the environment when they are manufactured, laundered, and discarded or recycled.
When signed, California Assembly Bill 1817 will require the phase-out of PFAS in textiles (including school uniforms) by January 1, 2025. Similar legislation will be signed in New York. However, we urge manufacturers not to wait for these deadlines, and halt PFAS use immediately.
Concerned parents should check if any of their children’s uniform pieces are advertised as “stain-resistant.” If so, they should ask school administrators to update their uniform policies (see below) and specify PFAS-free uniform options from manufacturers. For already-purchased uniforms, there is some evidence to suggest that multiple washes can reduce PFAS concentrations. For this reason, hand-me-down and used uniforms are a better option than newly purchased stain-resistant uniforms.
Handwashing is also an important measure for reducing exposure to PFAS and other harmful chemicals in addition to bacteria and viruses.
For School Administrators
School administrators should contact their uniform manufacturer to specifythat all PFAS be removed from all uniform designs immediately so that all options are PFAS-free before the 2023-2024 school year. For the remainder of the current school year, administrators may consider taking these actions:
Update this school year’s uniform policy to allow students to wear PFAS-free clothing within a defined dress code (e.g., clothing that is similar in style and colors to the current uniform).
Let worried parents know that uniforms that have been washed many times (hand-me-downs, etc.) likely have reduced concentrations. Parents may consider laundering recently-purchased uniforms multiple times before their children wear them to reduce exposure.
School uniform manufacturers should work with their supply chains to remove all PFAS from all products as soon as possible. Stain-resistance is not a necessary function, and these PFAS treatments likely have limited effectiveness in practice anyway. Our Institute is happy to help manufacturers find a path forward to maintain the quality and profitability of your products while reducing the potential for harm. Please reach out to [email protected] with questions.