Avoiding PVC and Other Toxins in Kids’ Rain Gear

After a drought that seemed to last forever, we finally had a lovely rainy day.  And of course, my son came home from preschool covered in mud.  It never occurred to me to buy him rain gear, such as rain boots, rain coats and umbrellas.  We have always been a “run for the door with our hands over our heads” kind of family.  However, he is lucky enough to go to a school where they send him outside – rain or shine.  So, I began my search for the proper rain gear.

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I searched every shoe and children’s store in the area.  Every rain boot I found had a really strong chemical smell to it.  I learned that the smell is probably PVC (polyvinyl chloride or vinyl).  PVC is a soft plastic commonly found in rain gear, lunch boxes and school supplies as well as things like shower curtains and plastic wrap.  PVC is sometimes (though not always) identified on products or packaging by the #3, V, PVC or vinyl.  The manufacture, use and disposal of PVC is harmful.  PVC usually contains toxic additives such as phthalates, lead, cadmium and organotins.  These toxins can leach out or evaporate into the air, making their way into our bodies.  Even a small amount of the additives in PVC can be particularly harmful to children because their bodies are still developing.

In addition to containing harmful additives, the manufacture of PVC releases numerous toxins into the environment, including dioxins.  Dioxins are carcinogens and have been linked to disruptions of the immune and reproductive system.  Even the disposal of PVC is harmful – PVC cannot be recycled so it is left to slowly release toxins into the environment.

Some rain gear is made from substances like Teflon and Gore-Tex.  These substances use PFCs (perfluorianted compounds) to create that non-stick or stain-resistant surface.  PFCs have been linked to cancer, immune and reproductive system disruptions, hypothyroidism and birth defects.

Some safer alternatives for rain coats and umbrellas include those made from polyurethane, polyester or nylon.   Polyurethane, polyester and nylon are synthetic materials but they are more inert than PVC and usually contain fewer toxins.  Make sure that these choices are listed as PVC- and phthalate-free because these toxic materials can still show up in the manufacture of materials like polyurethane.  Avoid rain coats and umbrellas made of shiny or colorful materials because they are the most likely to contain PVC.

The safest choice for rain boots are those made from natural rubber.  Make sure that the boots are constructed of 100% natural rubber; otherwise, they may contain harmful additives.  Also, be careful about products claiming to be made from simply “rubber” since rubber can be either natural or synthetic (such as the rubber used for tires).  Check labels and trust your nose – if the boots have that new car smell, stay away.

Here are some safer options for kids’ rain coats, rain boots and umbrellas:

Rain Boots

Rain Coats

  • Puddlegear – PVC- and phthalate-free; certified by Oeko-Tex to be free of over 100 toxic chemicals
  • Hatley – PVC-free; made of polyurethane, cotton and polyester
  • i Play – PVC- and phthalate-free; made of polyurethane and polyester
  • Lands End Navigator Jacket – made of nylon and polyester

Umbrellas

  • Hatley – made of 100% nylon
  • i Play – PVC-free; made of coated polyester

For more information about PVC-free options for school supplies, check out the Center for Health, Environment & Justice’s Back-to-School Guide to PVC-Free School Supplies.

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