U.S. homes are like mini chemical storage facilities: New study

Do you think you are living a healthy life because you eat a relatively clean, organic diet?  Think again.  A new scientific study has uncovered some worrisome news about what is going on inside U.S. homes. Specifically, numerous toxic chemicals were discovered to be leaching inside of people’s homes–even newer ‘eco-friendly/green’ homes.

What toxic chemicals were uncovered: Over 100 toxic chemicals were tested for including phthalates, flame retardants, pesticides, antimicrobials, fragrances, formaldehyde, and chlorinated solvents.

Why you should be concerned: Exposure to these chemicals has been associated with numerous health effects such as hormone disruption, asthma, reproductive disorders, lower IQ, and cancer, while other chemicals uncovered have been linked to diabetes and infertility (including two flame retardants — tris(1-chloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TCIPP) and tris(1,3-dichloroisopropyl) phosphate (TCDIPP)).  TCDIPP is a carcinogen and has been associated with decreased fertility in men.

Important takeaways: There are three important takeaways from these findings: (1) Some of the toxic chemicals leaching into the air of U.S. homes stemmed from the personal care products the residents were using; (2) toxins were found even in homes that had been built using so-called “green” materials; (3) housing in low-income neighborhoods tested positive for higher levels of toxic chemicals indoors than those in high-income neighborhoods.

The good news:  You have control over a significant level of toxic chemicals inside your home.  Testing homes before and after occupancy, researchers discovered that:

“After the residents moved in, the indoor air’s chemical make-up changed. There were significant increases in levels of triclosan (an antimicrobial found in toothpaste and soaps), fragrances (found in personal care and cleaning products), phthalates (which are added to plastics, vinyl, and personal care products), and other flame retardants (found in furniture). This suggests that residents, through their personal belongings and behaviors, also have a strong influence on the air inside their units.”


 

Air quality in ‘green’ housing affected by toxic chemicals in building materials

Indoor air pollution can be a problem in many homes, even in eco-friendly buildings. Thanks to a new innovative study led by Silent Spring Institute, researchers have a better idea of where these pollutants come from — which ones come from chemicals leaching out of building materials and which ones from the personal items people bring into their homes…

“Most buildings aren’t designed with people’s health in mind.  Yet, indoor air pollution can lead to a range of health problems.”

-Dr. Robin Dodson, lead researcher, environmental exposure scientist, Silent Spring Institute

Researchers tested for nearly 100 chemicals — including phthalates, flame retardants, pesticides, antimicrobials, fragrances, formaldehyde, and chlorinated solvents. Exposure to these chemicals has been associated with numerous health effects such as hormone disruption, asthma, reproductive disorders, lower IQ, and cancer.

By comparing levels pre- and post-occupancy, scientists identified several chemicals that likely came from the building. These included two flame retardants — tris(1-chloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TCIPP) and tris (1,3-dichloroisopropyl) phosphate (TCDIPP).  TCDIPP is a carcinogen and has been associated with decreased fertility in men. The researchers suspect these chemicals may have been added to the insulation.

The team also found, much to their surprise, several chemicals coming from the building that are normally found in personal care products. These include the sunscreen chemicals benzophenone (BP) and benzophenone-3 (BP-3), as well as di-butyl phthalate (DBP), a chemical used in nail polish and perfumes…

After the residents moved in, the indoor air’s chemical make-up changed. There were significant increases in levels of triclosan (an antimicrobial found in toothpaste and soaps), fragrances (found in personal care and cleaning products), phthalates (which are added to plastics, vinyl, and personal care products), and other flame retardants (found in furniture). This suggests that residents, through their personal belongings and behaviors, also have a strong influence on the air inside their units.

The researchers detected several chemicals that have either been banned or phased out. For instance levels of the flame retardant BDE 47 increased post-occupancy. BDE 47 is a component of a flame retardant mixture commonly referred to as PentaBDE and was widely used in furniture before it was phased-out in 2005 due to health concerns. However, the chemical is still present in old or second-hand furniture. The pesticides propoxur and diazinon, banned from residential use in 2007 and 2004 respectively, were also detected inside the units.

Formaldehyde, a carcinogen, was detected in every single unit and appeared to come from both residents and the building. What’s more, all units had formaldehyde at levels above risk-based screening levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Several other chemicals were also found to exceed screening levels.


 

Journal Reference:  Robin E. Dodson, Julia O. Udesky, Meryl D. Colton, Martha McCauley, David E. Camann, Alice Y. Yau, Gary Adamkiewicz, Ruthann A. Rudel. Chemical exposures in recently renovated low-income housing: Influence of building materials and occupant activities. Environment International, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2017.07.007

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