by Environmental News Service
NEW YORK- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.