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New Study Finds Chemical Cocktail in Household Dust

Friday, March 25, 2005

Tests on household dust in seven states show that we’re breathing in a hodgepodge of chemicals from consumer products, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. On the shortlist of 35 toxic industrial chemicals found are phthalates, plasticizers that soften products with vinyl, including shoes, face and body lotions, upholstery, shower curtains, nail polish and garden hoses; PFOA, the Teflon chemical, in everything from pots and pans to Scotchguard and StainMaster carpeting, waterproof jackets, and stain-resistant clothing; flame retardants, found in mattresses, carpet and curtains; and pesticides.

The study, which tested 70 homes across the country, was conducted by the Montreal-based group Clean Production Action, a nonprofit arm of the Tides Center in San Francisco. It looked for 44 different chemicals in six different classes, all of which studies have linked to cancer or reproductive, respiratory and immune system disorders. The EPA’s prime investigatory lab for chemicals in dust analyzed the samples.

Phthalates were found in the greatest amounts in the samples, and pose a problem for consumers who want to avoid them—they typically aren’t featured on product ingredient lists. Phthalates are particularly prevalent in personal care products—they make our lotions, shaving gel and hair mousse feel silky instead of sticky—but often get lumped in under a patented, and therefore undisclosed, formula for fragrance. And because there are no government regulations that require that even products listed as “fragrance-free” actually not contain fragrance, there’s precious little the public can do to protect themselves.

After phthalates, “Sick of Dust,” the group’s report, found the highest levels of alkylphenols, found in textiles, cleaners and paint; pesticides; flame retardants; organotins, found in vinyl, fungicides, wood surface treatments and cooling towers; and perfluorinated surfactants, the chemical class that includes the Teflon chemical PFOA and its cousin, PFOS. The health effects from this chemical cocktail are wide-ranging, including inhibited hormone functions and sexual development, reproductive and respiratory disorders, damaged organ function, and cancer.

View EWG’s reports on:
Phthalates and other chemicals in personal care products.
The Teflon chemical.
Flame retardants in dust and in breast milk.
Pesticide studies on children.

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