Chemicals in Consumer Products

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Highly toxic chemicals such as mercury, lead, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), phthalates, and toxic flame retardants are found in consumer products we use every day: shower curtains, couch cushions, carpets, mattresses, computers, clothing, household cleaners, air fresheners, even products for babies and children. There are now over 80,000 chemicals registered for use in the American marketplace, with approximately 2,000 more being introduced each year. Many of these chemicals have never been tested for their health effects, and even chemicals that have been shown to damage or interfere with body systems remain on the market in products we use every day.

Furniture & Electronics

Some upholstered furniture and electronics contain harmful flame retardant chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Our daily exposure to PBDEs in our homes, cars, and offices is particularly concerning because PBDEs persist in the environment and build up in our bodies. PBDEs may affect learning, damage reproductive health and damage the thyroid.

You can reduce your exposure to PBDEs by choosing PBDE-free products. To find products made without PBDEs, go to pollutioninpeople.org/safer/products or call the manufacturer.

PBDEs bind to dust particles. To lower your exposure to PBDEs, it is important to remove dust from your home safely and effectively. Use a wet cloth to dust, a damp mop to clean floors, and a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to avoid stirring up dust.
Download PBDE Fact Sheet pdf

Auto

(Information obtained from the Ecology Center)

The average American spends more than 1.5 hours in their car every day breathing in chemicals like PVC, PBDEs and phthalates; the inside of a car is a significant source of indoor air pollution. According to the EPA, indoor air pollution is currently one of the top five environmental risks to public health.
Studies have found that these chemicals are more rapidly released into the air in extreme temperatures. Since automobiles have 360-degree windows surrounding the interior, cars can heat up to 190ºF.

In addition, UV exposure from parking in the sun creates a favorable environment for chemical breakdown, causing PBDEs to decompose into even more dangerous compounds. Solar exposure in cars can be 5 times higher than in homes or offices, according to scientific studies.

Both PBDEs and phthalates are considered chemicals of concern due to their toxicity and widespread presence in the environment. Levels of PBDEs found in the breast milk of American women and some fetuses are approaching levels shown to impair learning and cause behavioral problems in laboratory mice. These chemicals have also been linked to thyroid hormone disruption and liver toxicity in animals. One type of phthalate found in a large variety of PVC products, called DEHP, and has been linked to premature birth, reproductive defects and early onset puberty in lab animals.

How to Reduce Exposure

(Information obtained from the Ecology Center)

You can help minimize your exposure to PBDEs and phthalates in car interiors by vacuuming often, using solar reflectors to deflect heat, ventilating car interiors, and parking in the shade whenever possible. Avoid the use of car fresheners that list “fragrance” as an ingredient – this is a red flag for the presence of phthalates. These actions can reduce the rate of exposure, release and break-down of these chemicals.

Ask the government to encourage rapid action to phase-out the use of PBDEs and phthalates by requiring phase-out timelines. Government purchasers should further require disclosure on the use of these substances in their purchasing specifications.

Ask manufacturers to phase out PBDEs and phthalates in auto interior parts, setting specific timelines for its material and component suppliers. Ask manufacturers such as Mercedes, Chrysler, Toyota and Subaru, to improve their chemical policies.

Shower Curtains

(Information obtained from the Ecology Center)

As many as 100 toxic chemicals associated with adverse health effects are released into the air from PVC shower curtains, according to “Volatile Vinyl: The New Shower Curtain’s Chemical Smell,” a study by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), the Washington Toxics Coalition, People For Puget Sound, and the Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition.  These chemicals make up that “new shower curtain smell” unique to PVC shower curtains and shower curtain liners.

Though ubiquitous in homes around the world, PVC shower curtains contain many harmful chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates and organotins. Toxic chemical off-gassing from PVC shower curtains may contribute to respiratory irritation, damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys, nausea, headaches, and loss of coordination.
PVC shower curtains purchased at Bed Bath & Beyond, Kmart, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart were tested in this study. Key findings include:

  • 108 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were released into the air from a shower curtain over a twenty-eight day period;
  • The level of total VOCs measured was over 16 times greater than the recommended guidelines for indoor air quality established by the U.S. Green Building Council.
  • All five curtains tested in phase one contained phthalates DEHP and DINP, chemicals banned in children’s toys in California, Washington, and the European Union;
  • Seven of the chemicals found are classified as hazardous air pollutants by the EPA under the Clean Air Act.

(For the full report, including methodology and findings, visit www.watoxics.org/files/VolatileVinyl.pdf)

Furniture and Mattresses

(Information obtained from the Ecology Center)

Choose alternatives to products that contain toxic flame retardants (PBDE’s), which are often used in furniture upholstery and foam.

Avoid products that contain PVC, such as inflatable furniture, artificial leather, PVC-coated fabrics, and vinyl furniture covers.

If you own painted furniture made before 1978, test the paint for lead and coat or replace if necessary.

Check for products that have been recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission due to lead pdf or other hazards.

More on Choosing Safer Furniture.

Clothing

(Information obtained from the Ecology Center)

Avoid products made of, or coated with PVC, which can include various items such as bibs, hats, bags, raingear, and shoes. Some shoemakers including Nike, Adidas, Asics, and Puma have pledged to phase out PVC in their products.

If possible, choose alternatives to clothing treated for water or stain resistance, such as outerwear and sportswear. Other products that may be treated include shoes, luggage, and camping and sporting equipment.

Jewelry

(Information obtained from the Ecology Center)

Avoid jewelry with plastic cords, dull metallic components, or white fake pearls, which may contain lead. Be especially wary of vending machine jewelry, and avoid imported Mexican necklaces with glass pedants containing liquid mercury pdf.

Check for jewelry that has been recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission due to lead or other hazards.