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Questionable Chemicals Found in Household Products

Many in Industry Question Study’s Findings, Say Fears Unfounded
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 8, 2012 -- Many cleaning and personal care products contain chemicals linked with asthma flare-ups or hormone disruption, according to new research.

On the list: sunscreens, vinyl shower curtains, and fragranced products.

"Consumer products in the home can be a significant source of hormone-disrupting chemicals and asthma-associated chemicals," says Robin Dodson, ScD, a research scientists at Silent Spring Institute. The research organization studies links between the environment and women's health.

The study is published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Dodson and her team suggest consumers should reduce their use of certain products found to be high in these chemicals for health reasons. However, industry groups say the study is flawed and the safety fears unfounded.

 

Chemicals in Household Products: Study Details

''Asthma is increasing, and we're still trying to figure out why," Dodson tells WebMD. Her team wanted to look at chemicals in household products that might be linked with asthma flare-ups - which are when a person with asthma has a mild to severe attack.

They also looked at chemicals known as hormone disrupters. Hormone disrupters mimic or change the body's own hormones. They can raise concerns for increased risk of certain cancers, Dodson says.

The researchers tested 50 different categories of products. They looked for 66 specific chemicals that have been linked with either asthma flare-ups and/or hormone disruption.

Among the chemicals:

  • Parabens (in cosmetics)
  • Triclosan (found in anti-bacterial soap)
  • Alkylphenols (detergents)
  • UV filters (personal care products)
  • BPA  (containers)
  • Cyclosiloxanes (sunscreens, hair care)
  • Phthalates (plastic products)
  • Fragrances
  • Glycol ethers (cleaning compounds, cosmetics)
  • Ethanolamines (cleaning products)

They looked at 42 types of conventional products and 39 types of alternative products.

The researchers  found 55 chemicals in all.  According to Julia Brody, PhD, executive director of Silent Spring Institute, ‘‘we found 50 chemicals [of the ones on the list] in the conventional samples. Every conventional sample had at least one targeted chemical. We found 41 chemicals in the alternative products.’’ 

Among the products tested:

  • Cat litter
  • Pillow protectors
  • Diapers
  • Cleaners, including glass, floor, and surface cleaners
  • Laundry soap and dishwasher soap
  • Stain removers
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Shaving cream
  • Face lotion and cleanser
  • Toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Mascara
  • Vinyl and other shower curtains
  • Dryer sheets
  • Air fresheners
  • Perfumes
  • Nail polish
  • Sunscreens

The product labels weren't always accurate at identifying all the chemicals, the researchers say.

Chemicals in Household Products: More Findings

Some products had higher levels of the chemicals than others, Dodson tells WebMD.

Sunscreens and products with fragrances such as dryer sheets, air freshener, and perfume had the highest concentrations of the potentially hazardous chemicals, she says. "We found substantial levels of DEHP in the vinyl shower curtain," she says. "It was 28% by weight."

DEHP is a phthalate and a hormone disrupter. It has also been linked with respiratory symptoms, the researchers say.

"The pillow protectors, which a lot of asthmatics use, we found [had] DEHP 14% by weight," Dodson says.

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