Warning to New Home Buyers and Remodeling Consumers: We have previously published several other scientific studies on the risk to health from the toxins found in indoor air pollution*. Now a new scientific study has uncovered a whopping 55 toxic chemicals inside U.S. homes. From new flooring, to newly refinished flooring, to newly hung drywall, to new furniture or cabinetry, new homes and recently remodeled homes have become akin to live-in chemical factories–some with concentrations of toxins that are 1,000 times higher than recommended.
“To assess the potential human exposures and risks, the researchers screened more than 500 unique chemical-product combinations from chemical composition data reported in the Pharos Project database. Then they used a risk assessment approach to determine the amount of chemicals used in building products, the corresponding human exposure and the associated cancer and noncancer risks of the chemicals. Finally, they listed the chemicals from most to least concerning by their “hazard content ratios.”**
Study findings overview
“Among the worst offenders was formaldehyde, which is often included in wooden furniture, base cabinetry and wood, cork, and bamboo flooring. Formaldehyde is considered a carcinogen and has also been linked to leukemia.
Researchers also found that butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), an antioxidant found in carpet flooring, has actual content 800 times higher than recommended.
And the content of hexamethylene diisocyanate, found in carpeting, was thousands of times higher than the recommended maximum content of 0.2ppm. According to the EPA, hexamethylene diisocyanate is extremely irritating to the eyes, nose and throat and chronic long-term exposure to hexamethylene diisocyanate may cause lung problems.”
The number of toxins and the levels of the chemicals of concern inside people’s homes is troubling to scientists. The lead researcher in the study expressed his concerns about the levels of formaldehyde in buildings and that it continued to be commonly used despite its well-known carcinogenic effects, even at low levels.
“These results show that a significant number of chemical-products combinations used in building materials pose a risk to human occupants. We need to get rid of some of these compounds that sometimes are 1,000 times too high.”
-Dr. Olivier Jolliet, senior author of the study and professor of environmental health sciences at University of Michigan School of Public Health
Wait-and-Air-It-Out. Do not move your family into a newly built or newly remodeled home (such as installing new flooring, windows [due to chemical sealants used], or cabinetry, new interior painting, etc.) without first opening the windows and airing it out for at least a week–longer if possible. Because many toxic substances used in home building and remodeling products like formaldehyde are highly volatile, allowing a new construction or remodel to air out may help decrease concentrations considerably.
Scientist Lei Huang, who is from China, said the U.S. lags behind other countries in regulation and consumer awareness of the dangers of certain chemicals in building materials…
“In China, we’re very aware of those harmful chemicals. When they buy a home, people wait three or four months to move in. In the U.S., people don’t care about it and there’s actually less regulation in the U.S. than in Europe.”
-Dr. Lei Huang, first author of the study and a research specialist in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health
**The research was carried out in close collaboration with Technical University Denmark and the United Nations and is part of a project on “Global Best Practices on Emerging Chemical Policy Issues of Concern” under U.N. Environment’s Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM)’.
Journal reference: Lei Huang, Peter Fantke, Amélie Ritscher & Olivier Jolliet, Chemicals of concern in building materials: A high-throughput screening, Journal of Hazardous Materials,
2021, 127574. Study/Overview. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhazmat.2021.127574