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Dust Study Raises Debate About Possible Health Risks

Mar 26, 2005 | San Francisco Chronicle

Common household dust contains a variety of hazardous chemicals originating from everyday consumer products, including Teflon and other non-stick cookware and fabrics coated with water-resistant Gore-Tex, according to a new study.

The study showed that hidden away in dust balls in vacuum cleaner bags were 35 toxic chemicals that are legal in products but have been shown to cause reproductive, respiratory and other health problems in humans or test animals.

The dust came from 70 houses in seven states.

"This is a snapshot of hazardous chemicals in households. If we chose to look for more chemicals, I’m sure we’d have found them," said Beverley Thorpe, director of Clean Production Action, a Montreal-based international non-profit project of the Tides Center in San Francisco.

Far and away in the greatest amount were the little-known phthalates, plasticizers used to soften everything vinyl, including flooring, raincoats, shoes and purses, tablecloths, shower curtains, upholstery, carpet backing and PVC water pipes.

The dust samples were analyzed by a Texas laboratory that for the past 15 years has been the prime investigator of chemicals in dust, including for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and private research groups.

The group is calling for the federal Toxics Substances Control Act to be revamped to require safety testing of the thousands of chemicals in commerce in order to remain on the market. The group considers European initiatives as models for regulating the chemicals.

Representatives of the vinyl industry, which uses phthalates and organotins, said the study contained nothing that hadn’t been reported in the last five years.

"The fact that you measure something in dust doesn’t mean it’s going to cause a health threat," said Allen Blakey, spokesman for the Vinyl Institute, a trade group in Arlington, Va.

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