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Image result for household dust Ten chemicals suspected or known to harm human health are present in more than 90% of U.S. household dust samples, according to a new study. The research adds to a growing body of evidence showing the dangers posed by exposure to chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis. The chemicals come from a variety of household goods, including toys, cosmetics, personal care products, furniture, electronics, nonstick cookware, food packaging, floor coverings, some clothing (e.g., stain resistant), building materials, and cleaning products. How do the chemicals get into the dust? The chemicals can leach, migrate, abrade, or off-gas from the products, which winds up in the dust and  results in human exposure. (That's right:  vacuum a lot and wash your hands a lot, and try to avoid or cut  back use of products with these chemicals,)

What was found in the dust? The main chemicals were: phthalates — a group of chemicals that includes DEP, DEHP, DNBP and DIBP (these were present in the highest concentrations),  highly fluorinated chemicals (HFCs), flame retardants (both old and newer replacement ones), synthetic fragrances, and phenols. These chemicals are known to have various adverse health effects, including endocrine disruption, cancer, neurological, immune, and developmental effects. (See posts on endocrine disruptors and flame retardants) Studies typically study one chemical at a time, but household dust contains MIXTURES of these chemicals with effects unknown. How does it get into us? Inhalation, ingestion, and through skin contact. And while the levels we are exposed to may be low, research is showing that even low level exposure can have adverse health effects. From Medical Xpress:

Potentially harmful chemicals widespread in household dust

Household dust exposes people to a wide range of toxic chemicals from everyday products, according to a study led by researchers at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. The multi-institutional team conducted a first-of-a-kind meta-analysis, compiling data from dust samples collected throughout the United States to identify the top ten toxic chemicals commonly found in dust. They found that DEHP, a chemical belonging to a hazardous class called phthalates, was number one on that list. In addition, the researchers found that phthalates overall were found at the highest levels in dust followed by phenols and flame retardant chemicals....."The findings suggest that people, and especially children, are exposed on a daily basis to multiple chemicals in dust that are linked to serious health problems."

Chemicals from consumer products are released into the air and get into dust, which can settle on household items or on the floor. People can inhale or ingest small particles of dust or even absorb them through the skin. Infants and young children are particularly at risk for exposure to the chemicals found in dust because they crawl, play on dusty floors, and put their hands in their mouths, the authors say.

Zota and colleagues pooled data from 26 peer-reviewed papers and one unpublished dataset that analyzed dust samples taken from homes in 14 states. They found 45 potentially toxic chemicals that are used in many consumer and household products such as vinyl flooring, personal care and cleaning products, building materials and home furnishings. The meta-analysis combines information from smaller dust studies and thus offers solid conclusions with greater statistical power, the authors say. The team found that:

  • Ten harmful chemicals are found in ninety percent of the dust samples across multiple studies, including a known cancer-causing agent called TDCIPP. This flame retardant is frequently found in furniture, baby products and other household items.
  • Indoor dust consistently contains four classes of harmful chemicals in high amounts. Phthalates, substances that are used to make cosmetics, toys, vinyl flooring, and other products, were found in the highest concentration with a mean of 7,682 nanograms per gram of dust-an amount that was several orders of magnitude above the others. Phenols, chemicals used in cleaning products and other household items, were the number two highest chemical class followed by flame retardants and highly fluorinated chemicals used to make non-stick cookware.
  • Chemicals from dust are likely to get into young children's bodies. A flame retardant added to couches, baby products, electronics and other products, TCEP, had the highest estimated intake followed by four phthalates—DEP, DEHP, BBzP and DnBP. The intake numbers in this study probably underestimate the true exposure to such chemicals, which are also found in products on the drug store shelf and even in fast food the authors say.
  • Phthalates such as DEP, DEHP, DNBP, and DIBP, are not only found at the highest concentrations in dust but are associated with many serious health hazards. Phthalates are thought to interfere with hormones in the body and are linked to a wide range of health issues including declines in IQ and respiratory problems in children.
  • Highly fluorinated chemicals such as PFOA and PFOS are also high on the potential harm scale. These types of chemicals, which are found in cell phones, pizza boxes, and many non-stick, waterproof and stain-resistant products have been linked to numerous health problems of the immune, digestive, developmental and endocrine systems.
  • Small amounts can add up. Many of the chemicals in dust are linked to the same health hazards, such as cancer or developmental and reproductive toxicity, and may be acting together. Exposure to even small amounts of chemicals in combination can lead to an amplified health risk, especially for developing infants or young children, the authors say.

In the meantime, consumers who want to reduce their exposure to chemicals in household dust and the environment around them can take a few simple steps such as keeping dust levels low by using a strong vacuum with a HEPA filter; washing hands frequently; and avoiding personal care and household products that contain potentially dangerous chemicals.

From the original study in Environmental Science and Technology: Consumer Product Chemicals in Indoor Dust: A Quantitative Meta-analysis of U.S. Studies

Indoor dust is a reservoir for commercial consumer product chemicals, including many compounds with known or suspected health effects. However, most dust exposure studies measure few chemicals in small samples. We systematically searched the U.S. indoor dust literature on phthalates, replacement flame retardants (RFRs), perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), synthetic fragrances, and environmental phenols and estimated pooled geometric means (GMs) and 95% confidence intervals for 45 chemicals measured in ≥3 data sets. In order to rank and contextualize these results, we used the pooled GMs to calculate residential intake from dust ingestion, inhalation, and dermal uptake from air, and then identified hazard traits from the Safer Consumer Products Candidate Chemical List. Our results indicate that U.S. indoor dust consistently contains chemicals from multiple classes. Phthalates occurred in the highest concentrations, followed by phenols, RFRs, fragrance, and PFASs. Several phthalates and RFRs had the highest residential intakes. We also found that many chemicals in dust share hazard traits such as reproductive and endocrine toxicity

People in developed countries spend more than 90% of their time in indoor environments, creating an important link between indoor environmental quality and public health. Consumer products and building materials including furniture, electronics, personal care and cleaning products, and floor and wall coverings contain chemicals that can leach, migrate, abrade, or off-gas from products resulting in human exposure. Consequently, chemicals such as phthalates, phenols, flame retardants, and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs) are widely detected in the U.S. general population, including vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and children. Exposure to one or more of these chemical classes has been associated with adverse health effects including reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, cognitive and behavioral impairment in children, cancer, asthma, immune dysfunction, and chronic disease.

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Image result for air fresheners Did you ever wonder about all the consumer products that have fragrances in them and whether they are safe to use? Think of all the fragrances in personal care products and perfumes, in air fresheners, scented soaps, cleaning products, scented candles, even laundry detergents, and scented dryer sheets.

Fragrances are made up of many synthetic chemicals - with the "fragrance" in a product typically being a mixture of 50 to 300 chemicals. They are considered an important source of indoor air pollution and can have negative health effects on humans, especially developing fetuses and children. Fragrances are added to products to achieve a desired scent or mask other scents in the product. Air fresheners do not clean or freshen the air, but actually add chemicals to the air to mask other odors. Manufacturers are NOT required to disclose all the ingredients or chemicals in the products, and don't have to disclose any ingredients in any chemical mixture called "fragrance".

The few studies looking at health effects have found negative health effects, including on the lungs, respiratory effects, asthma, allergies, headaches, skin irritation, sensory irritation, hormonal effects, central nervous system effects, and inflammation. But more negative health effects are possible, especially because many of the chemicals are carcinogenic (cancer causing). We inhale the chemicals or absorb them through the skin, and from there they travel throughout the body - which is why they can be measured in the blood or urine.

Reading the studies that look at the chemicals emitted from scented products that people use every day can be overwhelming. Many of the studies specifically look at VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that the products emit, because these can affect air quality and human health. A big difficulty is that humans are exposed to mixtures of chemicals daily from many products, and the effects may take years to manifest themselves (such as cancer)

Bottom line: avoid, avoid, avoid fragranced or scented products if possible. Do not use scented detergent or dryer sheets (not necessary), do not use air fresheners (either in the home, workplace, or car), do not use incense or scented candles (post on scented candles). Read labels. Opening windows is the best way to air out a house or apartment. Studies find that fragrances labeled "organic", "natural", "green", or "with essential oils" basically emit the same toxic chemicals into the air (view such labels as marketing or "greenwashing") - therefore avoid those also.

Air fresheners are consumer products used in homes or in restrooms that typically emit fragrances,  including incense, scented candles, aerosol liquid wick and electric diffusers, and gels. Depending on which air freshener is used (and including those labeled "all natural"), they emit varying levels of allergens and toxic air pollutants (and which can also combine to produce other pollutants - "secondary pollutants"): acetone, aldehydes, benzene, toluene, formaldehyde, terpenes, styrene, esters, phthalates (which are hormone disrupting chemicals), limonene, and also ultrafine particles. None of these toxic chemicals are listed on the product labels. Typically, a fragrance is listed simply as “fragrance,” even though each fragrance can contain hundreds of individual chemicals. Only this past year has one company (Glade) started posting online (but not on the packages) some of the many chemicals used in its scented products. 

In 2009, Anne Steinemann of the University of Washington published a study of top-selling air fresheners and laundry products, and then expanded the study in 2015She found that all products tested gave off chemicals regulated as toxic or hazardous under federal laws, including carcinogens with no safe exposure level, but most of these chemicals were not listed on any of the product labels or Material Safety Data Sheets. The 2015 study found 156 different VOCs were emitted from the 37 products studied, with an average of 15 VOCs per product. 42 of these chemical compounds are classified as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal laws, and each product emitted at least one of these chemicals. Chemicals included acetone, the active ingredient in paint thinner and nail-polish remover; chloromethane, a neurotoxicant and respiratory toxicant; and acetaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane, both carcinogens. A plug-in air freshener contained more than 20 different volatile organic compounds, with more than one-third classified as toxic or hazardous under federal laws. Even air fresheners called "organic," "green," or with "essential oils" emitted hazardous chemicals, including carcinogens.

2009 study in reported that 30.5% of the general U.S. population found that smelling scented products on others was irritating, 19% reported adverse health effects from air fresheners, and 10.9% reported irritation by scented laundry products vented to the outside. 

A 2012 study in Environmental Health Perspectives Endocrine disruptors and asthma-associated chemicals in consumer products looked for endocrine disruptors and asthma-related chemicals in a wide range of cosmetics, personal care products, cleaners, sunscreens, and vinyl products. They detected 55 compounds, suggesting a wide range of exposures from common products, with the highest concentrations and numbers of detected chemicals in vinyl products, in all fragranced products (e.g., perfume, air fresheners, and dryer sheets) and sunscreen. Chemicals included parabens, phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), triclosan, ethanolamines, alkylphenols, fragrances, glycol ethers, and cyclosiloxanes. 

In a 2013 study in International Journal of Public Health, researchers found that women who had used air fresheners during pregnancy were "significantly more likely to have babies that suffered from wheezing and lower respiratory tract infections."The use of household cleaning products during pregnancy was linked to lower respiratory tract infections and wheezing during early life."

This recent 2015 study discussed all the chemicals released from air fresheners and their possible health effects. From the Journal of Toxicological Studies: Characterization of air freshener emission: the potential health effects. They pointed out that although the VOCs emitted by air fresheners are known to be human hazards, pollutant emission standards or test methods have not been established. Also: "Phthalates are used in many household products including children’s plastic toys, adhesive, nail polish, perfumes, and air fresheners. All air fresheners that are labeled as “unscented” and “all natural” contain phthalates. In these air fresheners, they are used as solvents to dissolve or to retain the fragrances for a longer period."When the air fresheners are released into the air, they can be inhaled or land on the skin and enter the eyes, where they are absorbed.....These chemicals can also alter hormone levels and cause other health problems. Phthalates interfere with the production of hormones such as testosterone and can be associated with reproductive abnormalities."

A 2011 study found that the chemicals in laundry detergents and dryer sheets are sources of dryer vent air pollution - the strong smells that can be smelled in the vicinity of the laundry vent when clothes are being dried. The researchers identified components of dryer vent scented emissions that are classified as "hazardous air pollutants and known or probable carcinogens". There were 29 VOCs identified in this study, with the highest concentrations for acetaldehyde, acetone, and ethanol, but also benzene, ethylbenzene, methanol, m/p-xylene, o-xylene, and toluene (all hazardous air pollutants). They don't discuss the issue of people wearing the clothes that are coated in the laundry detergent, fabric softener, and dryer sheet chemicals - but this is definitely something that people should be concerned with.

Currently Europe has stricter standards and laws about product ingredients and disclosure than the U.S., a result of  comprehensive legislation called REACH, which was passed in 2006. It requires that companies meet a "no data, no market" test, which means that producers know that ingredients used are safe. The regulation also calls on companies to substitute chemicals that have been placed on "high concern" lists.

The fragrance industry has projected global sales of $40 billion this year, and says it ensures the safety of its products through a "rigorous system of self-regulation" administered by its trade group, the International Fragrance Association. However, fragrance makers treat the chemicals in fragrances as "trade secrets", and so neither the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) or Consumer Products Safety Commission screen fragrances for safety. Of course the fragrance industry remains opposed to greater transparency regarding the chemicals it uses. So right now it's Buyer Beware when buying any product with any type of fragrance in it.....

For information on safer products in every category, go to the Environmental Working Group web-site. http://www.ewg.org/  An informative (and angry) article on the issue of fragrance safety from Mother Jones: Is "Fragrance" Making Us Sick?

 Yes, the chemicals in personal care products and cosmetics you use absolutely get into your body, have effects, and can be measured in the urine. Of especially big concern are the endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals such as phthalates, parabens, triclosan, and oxybenzone (BP-3). This study shows that even taking a 3 day break from these chemicals lowers their levels in your body. The researchers found that : "The adolescent girls in this study experienced an average within girl decline of 27-45% in urinary concentrations of certain phthalates, certain parabens, triclosan, and oxybenzone after three days of abstaining from conventional personal care products and using replacement products with labels indicating they did not contain these chemicals."

Bottom line; Read the ingredient lists of all personal care products and try to avoid those with phthalates, parabens, triclosan, and oxybenzone (BP-3). Try to buy "unscented" or "fragrance-free" products.The site ewg.org also has lists of personal care products to avoid, and rates many products. From Science Daily:

Teen girls see big drop in chemical exposure with switch in cosmetics

A new study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas demonstrates how even a short break from certain kinds of makeup, shampoos and lotions can lead to a significant drop in levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals in the body. The results, published Monday, March 7, 2016 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, came from a study of 100 Latina teenagers participating in the Health and Environmental Research on Makeup of Salinas Adolescents (HERMOSA) study.

Researchers provided teen study participants with personal care products labeled free of chemicals such as phthalates, parabens, triclosan and oxybenzone. Such chemicals are widely used in personal care products, including cosmetics, fragrance, hair products, soaps and sunscreens, and have been shown in animal studies to interfere with the body's endocrine system.

"Because women are the primary consumers of many personal care products, they may be disproportionately exposed to these chemicals," said study lead author Kim Harley, associate director of the UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health. "Teen girls may be at particular risk since it's a time of rapid reproductive development, and research has suggested that they use more personal care products per day than the average adult woman."

Analysis of urine samples before and after a three-day trial in which the participants used the lower- chemical products found significant drops in levels of these chemicals in the body. Metabolites of diethyl phthalate, commonly used in fragrances, decreased 27 percent by the end of the trial period. Methyl and propyl parabens, used as preservatives in cosmetics, dropped 44 and 45 percent respectively. Both triclosan, found in antibacterial soaps and some brands of toothpaste, and benzophenone-3 (BP-3), found in some sunscreens under the name oxybenzone, fell 36 percent. Surprisingly, there was a small increase in concentrations in two less common parabens. Those levels were small and could have been caused by accidental contamination or a substitution not listed on the labels, the study authors said.

The researchers noted that cosmetics and personal care products are not well-regulated in this country, and that getting data about health effects from exposure, particularly long-term ones, is difficult. But they say there is growing evidence linking endocrine-disrupting chemicals to neurobehavioral problems, obesity and cancer cell growth. (Original study.)