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:
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." ...continue reading "What’s In Your Household Dust?"
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. ...continue reading "Health Reasons to Avoid Fragrances, Air Fresheners, Dryer Sheets"
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:
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.)