Two weeks ago we had an absolutely gorgeous Thanksgiving week-end, with hot, summery weather, and not a cloud in sight! Now the weather has turned much more seasonal, and although it isn’t too cold yet, it is certainly very rainy. Dressing Mausi up in her rainsuit and ducky boots and going out for some “puddle-stomping” was the epitome of what to do with a toddler on a rainy afternoon.

In the last couple of years there has been increased awareness about the materials going into children’s rainwear and boots, and a significant move away from using PVC in childrenswear. We look for that label that says ‘PVC-free’, but what does it mean?

What is PVC?

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is the third most widely produced plastic, and is made more pliable through the addition of plasticizers, most commonly phthalates. Phthalates mimic human hormones, and also have adverse affects on non-human mammals, fish and invertebrates. A recent review paper in the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Envionmental Health indicated links between the exposure to phthalates and altered levels of reproductive hormones in children (Jurewicz and Hanke, 2011). Although there are several different types of phthalates, and some may not be as toxic as others, it is often very difficult to know which ones have been used in the manufacture of raingear and boots, and so it is best to avoid all phthalates.

Health and Environmental Effects

Certainly there are environmental concerns with the manufacture of PVC, but a major concern is with its destruction through incineration, either purposefully or accidentally, which results in dioxin emmission. Dioxin is a highly toxic and environmentally persistent (it sticks around for a very long time) man-made organic compound. Dioxin accumulates in the fat of animals, and approximately 70% of dioxin exposure in humans is through the food we eat. Dioxin has been shown to promote the growth of tumors, endocrine disruption, immunotoxicity and developmental toxicity, among other effects (Birnbaum, 1994). In short, dioxin is a toxic, highly persistent man-made organic compound, and the imput of dioxin into the environment needs to be decreased.

What can we do?

There are still uses for PVC, that for the time being remain, including sewage and water pipes. We can however start to look more critically at some of the products we buy and use, specifically children’s rain boots and rain gear. An alternative in the children’s rainwear department seems to be to coat fabrics with polyurethane (a chemically inert compound; meaning that it does not react further) to make them waterproof.

PVC-free rain gear is becoming much easier to find, and many local shops and larger retail chains carry rain coats, pants and suits made from PVC free and Phthalate-free materials.

The aim of this post was not to provide an exhaustive list of PVC-free gear, however the following are some companies that I contacted, and they have assured me that the rain gear they carry is PVC- and Phthalate-free:

  • PuddleGear – A Canadian mum-owned company that carries a line of European rain gear made by Abeko.
  • Mountain Equipment Coop – Canadian
  • L.L.Bean – Canadian shipping options available
  • Patagonia – available in outdoors shops throughout the USA and Canada
  • Tuffo – available in shops throughout the USA and Canada

We haven’t tested all of these out, after all how much raingear does one toddler need? But Mausi has tried out the MEC newtsuit with good results, and we are looking forward to testing out a jacket and rain pant combination from PuddleGear in the near future. The other brands have been used by acquaintances, and have all been recommended to me.

Do you have a PVC-free rainsuit or jacket and pants combination that you love for your little one?

** And since I am afterall still working on a PhD in ecology, and believe that just about all ‘scientific facts’ need to be backed up by proper journal articles, here are the two references I have cited above:

Birnbaum, L.S. 1994. The mechanism of dioxin toxicity: relationship to risk assessment. Environmental Health Perspectives. 102: 157-167
Jurewicz, J. and W. Hanke. 2011. Exposure to phthalates: Reproductive outcome and children health. A review of epidemiological studies. Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health. 24: 115-141
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