PVC is a concern in backpacks and other products used by children and adults because phthalates have been shown to harm natural hormone function, according to the New Jersey Department of Human Services. PVC also contains lead.
Clear backpacks (often required by schools) or backpacks with shiny, plastic designs are typically made of vinyl and therefore contain phthalates and lead. A tag can help determine whether a product contains PVC--if a tag says, "vinyl," it contains PVC. If an item contains the recycling triangle with the number "3" inside, it contains PVC.
Phthalates were banned from children's toys in February 2009, but phthalates remain in many products that children and adults use such as three-ring binders, colored paper clips, raincoats and many plastics.
The chemicals in PVC constantly release into the air and also leach through liquids.
Phthalates have been linked to birth defects, altered male reproductive development, testicular cancer, liver issues and early onset of puberty in girls (a risk factor for breast cancer), the New Jersey Department of Human Services and an article in Pediatrics says. For expecting mothers, a January 2010 article in Environmental Health Perspectives indicated that children exposed to phthalates in the womb are more likely to develop behavioral problems.