Sick of dust? Hazardous chemicals found in household dust across the United States

Abundance of toxic chemicals leach from electronics, shower curtains, vinyl flooring and other common household products causes unnecessary health risks.

provided by Clean Production Action


study of common household dust in 70 homes across the United States has revealed a variety of dangerous chemicals that leach from everyday products. The study, Sick of Dust: Chemicals in Common Products - a Needless Health Threat in Our Homes, is the first in the United States to look at a new and wide range of chemicals used in computers, cosmetics, upholstery, pesticides and other products. All of these chemicals are legal, despite the fact that they are internationally recognized as toxic or harmful to the immune and reproductive systems. Babies and young children are particularly at risk from exposure.

    Sick of Dust outlines all of the major chemicals that were found in the dust samples, their health risks, and the products they are found in. The report also ranks brand name companies and retailers on their use of hazardous chemicals and reveals what fundamental changes are needed to bring American chemical regulation up to a level that will protect our basic health and that of future generations. For a copy of the full report please visit

    “Why take a chance with the lives of our children?” asked Beverley Thorpe, International Director of Clean Production Action during a press conference to release the report. “Manufacturers and retailers need to stop using toxic chemicals which are building up in our bodies and switch to safer alternatives which are readily available.”

    The Sick of Dust report found six main types of chemicals in people's homes. All composite samples were contaminated by all six of the following chemical classes:

  1. Alkylphenols – Found in laundry detergents, textiles, hair-coloring, paints and all-purpose cleaners. These chemicals are widely recognized to mimic natural estrogen hormones leading to altered sexual development in some organisms.
  2. Organotin compounds – Found in PVC (polyvinyl chloride) water pipes, PVC food packing materials, glass coatings, polyurethane foams, and many other consumer products. These chemicals are very poisonous, even in small amounts. They can disrupt the hormone, reproductive and immune systems. Animal studies show that exposure early in life can also have long-term effects on brain development.
  3. Perfluorinated organics – Used to make Teflon, Goretex and other oil-, water- and stain-resistant materials for nonstick frying pans, utensils, stove hoods, stain-proof carpets, furniture and clothes. These chemicals have been shown to damage organ function and sexual development in lab animals, and are potentially carcinogenic.
  4. Pesticides – Applied in and around homes for controlling infestations of various insects and used in carpets. Pesticides include a wide range of chemicals. Some are associated with cancer, reproductive effects and birth defects, and many are toxic to the nervous system.
  5. Phthalates – Used primarily in vinyl (PVC) products such as shower curtains, raincoats, toys, furniture and flooring. Also used in paint, pesticides and personal care products (perfume, nail polish, hairspray). These chemicals disrupt reproductive systems in animal studies, particularly in male offspring and can contribute to male infertility. They have been linked to asthma and respiratory problems in children.
  6. Polybrominated dephenyl ethers (brominated flame retardants) – Applied to textiles or incorporated into plastics, foams and electrical goods to prevent or slow the spread of fire. These chemicals build up in the body and persist for long periods of time in the environment. Studies show they damage the development of the nervous and behavioral systems in young animals. American women have the highest levels of these chemicals tested for in breast milk.

    Exposure to this “toxic cocktail” is unnecessary and avoidable. As a nation we can progress in three primary ways:

1. Chemical Regulation Overhaul


    Our current regulations allow the continuing production and use of chemicals in everyday products that are linked to cancer, reproductive and neurological damage. The Federal Government should make such chemicals of high concern a priority for phase out and mandate their immediate substitution with safer chemicals. Meanwhile, state governments in the United States are taking action. In Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon and Washington legislation is underway to phase out some of the most dangerous chemicals. Europe can serve as an example. Home to the largest chemical industry in the world, Europe is currently overhauling its chemicals policy so that highly hazardous chemicals will require special authorization to be produced and used. Regulators believe this will lead to many highly toxic chemicals dropped from commerce and hasten the adoption of safe chemicals.

2. Corporate Responsibility


    Companies such as Dell, IKEA, Herman Miller and Shaw Carpets are examples of how companies can use safer chemicals in their product lines. Innovation is both feasible and profitable and other companies need to set similar goals and get active.

3. Consumer Action

    As a consumer, pay attention to the products you buy and find out if the brand name company you buy from is working toward a safe chemicals policy. Try to avoid items made with vinyl (PVC), brominated flame retardants and other harmful chemicals. See for more information including our company ranking on chemicals used in products.

    “We have a right to safety in our own homes,” said Angela Grattaroti, a participant in the Sick of Dust study who is a mother and cochair of a parent advisory council for special education in Leominster, Massachusetts. “It is inexcusable to subject our children to harms that can be avoided.”

    In addition to Clean Production Action, the following groups helped collect the research for the Sick of Dust report: Alliance for Healthy Tomorrow, Center for Environmental Health, Citizens Environmental Coalition, Ecology Center, Environmental Health Strategy Center, Oregon Environmental Council, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and the Washington Toxics Coalition.  

Ten steps to our children's toxic free future

  • Get Involved. Contact your local or state environmental group working to advance safe chemical production and ask them how you can help their efforts (for the seven states partnering on this project, please see contact info below. For other states, please visit These and other national groups will be promoting the passage of the Green Chemistry Bill and working to reform federal chemical regulations.
  • Don't buy products made of polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC), or 'vinyl'. This ncludes vinyl floors, vinyl shower curtains and imitation leather goods such as vinyl bags and toys. PVC requires a cocktail of chemicals such as phthalates and organotins tested for in this study. Vinyl plastic uses the number ?3? to distinguish it from other plastics (or you can call the company to find out what kind of plastic it is). Visit the Healthy Building Network to find PVC-free building materials ( and Greenpeace International data base of PVC alternatives (
  • Usenatural forms of pest control in your home and gardens.For information visit the Pesticide Action Network's website at Also visit
  • Buy curtains, carpets or furniture that are free of brominated flame retardants or perfluorinated chemicals.Contact companies directly to ask if they use these chemicals in their products. See our Chemical House for more information. In addition, you can replace carpets with wood floors, cork tiles, linoleum and area rugs. For more information visit and
  • Next time you buy cosmetics, choose products that are free of suspect chemicals. Visit the Safe Cosmetics Campaign to find brand name companies that are phasing out harmful chemicals (
  • Purchase your electronic products from companies that avoid brominated flame retardants (BFR).You can find a list of companies which are leading the field at and Also ask companies when they intend to phase out the use of PVC cables.
  • Initiate a safer chemicals program in government procurement of all products and services at the local or state level for bulk purchases of computer and electronic goods, and other product sectors outlined in our report.Initiate pesticide-free bylaws for all public spaces, and a phase out of vinyl use in all public buildings and furnishings.
  • The same can be done in the private and institutional sector.If your employer buys in bulk from suppliers, find out about their chemicals policy. At a minimum your company should have a strict phase out date for all Chemicals for Priority Action and a timeline for transitioning to safer materials. It is imperative that buyers source non-PVC plastic (vinyl) for building materials and consumer products. Big buyers can influence the market in a way that individual consumers can not.
  • If you are a retailer, ask your buyers to implement a safer chemicals agreement with their suppliers and make your policy public. Responsible retailers such as IKEA have implemented a strict chemicals policy which they enforce through frequent spot checks on their products. Other retailers have joined retailer consortiums to exert more pressure on their chemical suppliers. Post your chemicals policy on the web, through product labelling or through other forms of direct communication with your consumers.
  • Prioritize local and organic food in school cafeterias, hospitals and other institutional settings.Initiate pesticide-free bylaws in your local community.