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Toxic Chemicals Found in Household Dust Across USA

NEW YORK, New York, March 22, 2005 (ENS) - There are many hazardous chemicals in common household dust and they are making Americans sick, says a coalition of nine environmental organizations. An analysis of dust in 70 U.S. homes released today shows that particles from detergents, packing materials, textiles, computers and cosmetics, among many other ordinary objects, can be hazardous to human health.

The study, "Sick of Dust: Chemicals in Common Products - a Needless Health Threat in Our Homes," is the first in the United States to look at a wide range of chemicals used in computers, cosmetics, upholstery, pesticides and other products. All the chemicals tested are legal despite the fact that they are internationally recognized as toxic or harmful to the immune and reproductive systems.

vacuuming

Child vacuums in her New York City apartment. (Photo credit unknown)
Babies and young children are particularly at risk from exposure, the report says.

"Why take a chance with the lives of our children?" asked Beverley Thorpe, international director of Clean Production Action during a press conference to release the report. "Manufacturers and retailers need to stop using toxic chemicals which are building up in our bodies and switch to safer alternatives which are readily available."

In the first nationwide tests for brominated flame retardants in dust swiped from computers, two of the groups in the the Computer Take-Back Campaign and Clean Production Action found these neurotoxic chemicals on every computer sampled. The highest levels found were a form of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) called deca-BDE, one of the most widely used fire retardant chemicals in the electronics industry.

These results indicate that there is exposure to certain brominated flame retardants and that computers are likely to be a source of deca-BDE exposure in the dust of homes, offices, schools, and businesses.

All exposures, no matter how small, are of concern because deca-BDE is a bioaccumulative substance. This means that multiple exposures to low levels of deca-BDE add up over time and build up in the body.

This report finds that computer manufacturers can prevent unnecessary risks by using safer alternatives that meet stringent fire standards in the United States and are less harmful to human health and the environment.

dusting

Dusting a computer screen (Photo credit unknown)
Apple, for example, is replacing the plastic exterior casings on its new laptops with metal to negate the need for flame retardants. Toshiba now uses an inherently flame resistant plastic, polyphenylene sulphide, for casings of electronics. NEC has a new biobased plastic that negates the need for brominated or phosphorus based flame retardants.

In fact, exposure to all the chemicals in household dust is "unnecessary and avoidable," the coalition says.

"We have a right to safety in our own homes," said Angela Grattaroti, a participant in the "Sick of Dust" study who is a mother and co-chair of a parent advisory council for special education in Leominster, Massachusetts. "It is inexcusable to subject our children to harms that can be avoided."

The information collected for the "Sick of Dust" shows six main types of chemicals in people's homes. All composite samples were contaminated by all six of the following chemical classes:

  1. Alkylphenols - Found in laundry detergents, textiles, hair-coloring, paints and all-purpose cleaners. These chemicals mimic natural estrogen hormones, leading to altered sexual development in some organisms.

  2. Organotin Compounds - Found in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) water pipes, PVC food packing materials, glass coatings, polyurethane foams, and many other consumer products. Poisonous even in small amounts, these chemicals can disrupt the hormone, reproductive and immune systems. Animal studies show that exposure early in life can also have long-term effects on brain development.

  3. Perfluorinated Organics - Used to make Teflon, Goretex and other stain-resistant materials for nonstick frying pans, utensils, stove hoods, carpets, furniture and clothing. These chemicals have been shown to damage organ function and sexual development in lab animals, and are potentially carcinogenic.

  4. Pesticides - Applied in and around homes for controlling infestations of various insects and used in carpets. Pesticides include a wide range of chemicals, some associated with cancer, reproductive effects and birth defects, and many are toxic to the nervous system.

  5. Phthalates - Used primarily in vinyl (PVC) products such as shower curtains, raincoats, toys, furniture and flooring. Also used in paint, pesticides and personal care products such as perfume, nail polish, hairspray. These chemicals disrupt reproductive systems in animal studies, particularly in male offspring and can contribute to male infertility. They have been linked to asthma and respiratory problems in children.

  6. Polybrominated dephenyl ethers, known as brominated flame retardants - Applied to textiles or incorporated into plastics, foams and electrical goods to prevent or slow the spread of fire, these chemicals build up in the body and persist in the environment. Studies show they damage the development of the nervous and behavioral systems in young animals. American women have high levels of these chemicals in breast milk.
In addition to Clean Production Action, the following groups helped collect the research for the Sick of Dust report: Alliance for Healthy Tomorrow, Center for Environmental Health, Citizens Environmental Coalition, Ecology Center, Environmental Health Strategy Center, Oregon Environmental Council, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and the Washington Toxics Coalition.

The coalition recommends an overhaul of federal chemical regulations parallel to the process taking place in Europe. "Current regulations allow the continuing production and use of chemicals in everyday products that are linked to cancer, reproductive and neurological damage," they said today.

The most toxic chemicals should be high priority for phase out and substitution with safer chemicals, the coalition urged.

Meanwhile, state governments are taking action. In Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon and Washington, legislation is underway to phase out some of the most dangerous chemicals.

In addition to regulatory reform, the coalition is calling for corporate responsibility. They use companies such as Dell, IKEA, Herman Miller and Shaw Carpets as examples of how companies can use safer chemicals in their product lines.

"Innovation is both feasible and profitable and other companies need to set similar goals and get active," the coalition said.

Consumers do have options, and the coalition is recommending that consumers pay attention to the products they buy and find out if the company is working toward a safe chemicals policy.

Read "Sick of Dust" at: www.safer-products.org



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