Tens of thousands of tons of toxic chemicals are released by everyday consumer products in homes and workplaces each year in the US, a study suggests.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that makeup, hand sanitizer, shampoos, body lotions and mothballs were among the goods packed with the highest levels of toxins.
These chemicals serve multiple purposes within products, such as formaldehyde being used to stop wrinkling in clothing and diethanolamine as a lubricant in soap and shampoo.
Toxic volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects, organ failure, and other complications. A person can be exposed through touch or breathed in as chemicals travel in the air.
While no cases of these devastating conditions have ever been directly linked to household products, evidence shows repeat exposure raises risks.
A University of California, Berkeley, study finds that dangerous chemicals linked to cancer, organ failure, and birth defects are lingering in dozens of household goods. They are in construction materials holding parts of the home together such as glue and caulk-adhesive, cleaners such as soap and laundry detergent and cosmetics such as makeup and nail coating, the researchers warn
‘This study is the first to reveal the extent to which toxic VOCs are used in everyday products of all types that could lead to serious health problems,’ Dr Kristin Knox, the study’s lead author and scientist at environmental research organization the Silent Spring Institute, said.
Researchers estimate that 5,000 tons of toxic chemicals are released each year in California alone. Across the nation, the figure likely reaches the tens of thousands.
The Berkeley research team, who published their findings Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, used environmental data to find the chemicals’ prevalence in regular goods.
Under California Prop 65, which voters passed via a referendum in 1986, consumer goods that include toxic chemicals are required to warn customers of their presence.
These chemicals can have multiple purposes in clothing and other household goods. Manufacturers use them in small amounts to enhance the consistency and texture of some products.
While many of these chemicals are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency, they are not outright banned.
Outside of California, their prevalence in household goods is not consistently tracked either.
However, they can be washed off of products and into groundwater and also come off of products and enter the air.
When these chemicals enter the atmosphere, their interactions with sunlight will lead to the development of ozone.
The resulting gas is harmful to humans, leading to inflammation and irritation of the lungs — leaving those exposed with coughing fits and trouble breathing.
California environmental officials test products sold in the state for these chemicals. The Berkeley team used the data gathered by state officials for their research.
The data includes 172 products tested for these harmful chemicals. Among those, 105 contained at least one toxic substance
Researchers gathered data on 33 toxic chemicals tracked by the environmental health officials in the state.
The most common chemical overall was methanol, used as a solvent and antifreeze agent in household goods such as paint and construction material.
Also among the leaders was diethanolamine, ethylbenzene — used to manufacture plastic, ethylene glycol — used as an antifreeze and toluene — used as a solvent in paints and other materials.
The worst offenders were construction and cleaning goods.
Caulk adhesive, a sealant to fill in cracks and other spaces in floors and walls used in millions of buildings across America was found to have 11 toxic chemicals.
Industrial glue, also used ubiquitously in buildings across America, includes seven dangerous chemicals.
‘For auto and construction workers… All these exposures add up and might cause serious harm,’ Dr Meg Schwarzman, study author and environmental health scientist at Berkeley said.
‘At the most basic level, workers deserve to know what they’re exposed to.
‘But, ultimately, they deserve safer products and this study should compel manufacturers to make significant changes to protect workers’ health.’
Researchers warn that this poses an increased danger to people who work of construction sites and other similar environments.
The Berkeley researchers also gathered data on 16 goods that a person would use on their body, including cosmetics and hygiene products.
Formaldehyde, linked to nose and eye cancer after long-term exposure, was the most common chemical found on these goods.
Among them, the worst offender was nail coatings, which included five toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde.
Hand sanitizer — a product many ironically use to protect themselves from harmful substances — contained four.
These include methanol, which is linked to eye issues and migraines after long-term exposure.
Researchers also gathered data on 18 products that are ‘routinely used in the home’, such as dish soap and laundry detergent, finding many were also contaminated.
Laundry detergent included six chemicals, including methanol, diethanolamine —which can cause a deadly build-up of fluid in the lungs, and ethyl benzene — linked to liver failure and cancer.
Five toxic substances were in dish soap, including diethanolamine, formaldehyde, methanol, and methylene chloride, also linked to cancer.