Daily News Archive

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in Indoor Air and Dust in Homes
(Beyond Pesticides, January 7, 2004)
A recent study, published in Environmental Science & Technology (vol 37, no 20, 2003), demonstrates that chemicals from plastics, detergents, furniture, carpets, electronics, pesticides, and cosmetics affect indoor air quality and are found in house dust. The study authors measured concentrations of 89 different chemicals identified as endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) in indoor air and house dust samples from 120 homes on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. EDCs are chemicals that can mimic or interfere with human hormones. The study, "Phthalates, Alkylphenol, Pesticides, Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers, and Other Endocrine Disrupting Compounds in Indoor Air and Dust," detected 52 different compounds in air and 66 in dust.

Chemicals with the highest concentrations in both dust and air include phthalates and alkylphenols. The number of chemicals detected in a home ranged from 13-28 for indoor air and from 6-42 for dust. The average number of chemicals per home was 19 for air and 26 for dust.

Indoor air concentrations measured on Cape Cod are generally similar to levels reported elsewhere, according to the study authors. For pesticides, levels of DDT, carbaryl, chlordane, methoxychlor, propoxur, and pentachlorophenol appear higher on Cape Cod than in other regions; while levels of diazinon and permethrin appear lower, and chlorpyrifos appears similar.

According to the Silent Spring Institute, a non-profit scientific research organization that oversaw the study, there are no regulatory standards for contaminants in indoor air and house dust. In addition, there is no comprehensive list of endocrine disrupting chemicals, and most of the 87,000 chemicals in use have not been tested to determine whether they affect hormone systems. U.S. EPA has issued health-based exposure guidelines for about half of the compounds in the study. Where these guidelines exist, levels measured are often below the guidelines. However, for 15 compounds, including bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (from plastics) and some pesticides and PCBs that are currently banned, we measured levels in some samples that exceeded the guidelines. These chemicals are still found in and around homes worldwide, sometimes at levels exceeding health guidelines, because they break down very slowly.

Chemical Class Potential Sources Example Chemical
Phthalates Plastic, nail polish and other cosmetics dibutyl phthalate
Alkylphenols Detergents, plastic, pesticide formulations nonylphenol
Flame retardants Furniture foam or stuffing, carpets and drapes, electronic equipment (TVs, computers) polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE 47)
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) Combustion sources such as fireplaces; stoves and heaters, cigarette smoke, outdoor air pollution and auto exhaust benzo(a)pyrene
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) Older electrical equipment PCB 52
Banned pesticides Historical pesticide use in/near the home DDT, dieldrin, chlordane
Current-use pesticides Recent pesticide use in/near the home Chlopyrifos, permethrin
Other phenols and miscellaneous Disinfectants, polycarbonate plastics, cosmetics o-phenyl phenol, bisphenol A, parabens

Source: Silent Spring Institute. For more information, contact the Silent Spring Institute, 29 Crafts Street, Newton MA 02458, 617-332-4288, [email protected], www.silentspring.org.