PANNA: Pesticides Among Chemicals Found in New Study on Household Dust



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Pesticides Among Chemicals Found in New Study on Household Dust
March 24, 2005

A study of common household dust released this week found pesticides and other chemicals in samples from 70 homes across the United States. Released by Clean Production Action on March 22, Sick of Dust: Chemicals in Common Products – A Needless Health Risk in Our Homes documents a wide range of chemicals used in common products such as computers, cosmetics and upholstery as well as household and agricultural pesticides in the dust samples.

“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 co-chair of a parent advisory council for special education in Leominster, Massachusetts. “It is inexcusable to subject our children to harms that can be avoided.” 

Every dust sample contained measurable concentrations of five pesticides:  cis-permethrin, trans-permethrin, piperonyl butoxide, pentachorophenol (PCP) and 4,4’-DDT. Six more pesticides were found in some of the samples, including:  alpha- and gamma-chlordane,  chlorpyrifos, deildrin, methoxychlor and propoxur. Researchers tested samples for a total of 14 pesticides in the study.

Permethrin products are widely used in U.S. homes, yards and gardens. They are also used to kill insects in agriculture (especially in corn, wheat and alfalfa production), forestry, and public health programs, including use for head lice control. Because of the widespread use of these products, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) routinely finds permethrin residues on food. In 2001, it was among the top 10 most commonly detected pesticides in FDA food samples. Like all synthetic pyrethroids, permethrin products kill insects by strongly exciting their nervous systems. Permethrin is a possible carcinogen and also affects both male and female reproductive systems and the immune system. Piperonyl butoxide, which is used in formulations of permethrin, increases the potency of permethrin and related pyrethroids and is also a possible carcinogen.

Most exposure to pentacholorophenol (PCP) in the U.S. comes from its past use on treated wood and soil. From 1987 to 1993 EPA recorded releases of PCP to land and water totaling nearly 100,000 pounds. PCP use has been restricted since 1984, but it is still used as a preservative on wooden utility poles and railroad ties. PCP is a known neurotoxin and a suspected endocrine disruptor, and is classified as a possible human carcinogen. 

Although DDT was banned from use in the United States in 1972, a recent body burden study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found DDT residues in the blood of 99% of those sampled. DDT is classified as a probable human carcinogen, and has been linked to developmental and reproductive disorders, premature births and reduced lactation in nursing mothers.

Five additional classes of chemicals were found in the dust:

  • Alkylphenols are 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.
  • Organotin compounds are 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.
  • Perfluorinated organics are 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.
  • Phthalates are used primarily in vinyl (PVC) products such as shower curtains, raincoats, toys, furniture and flooring.  They are 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.
  • Polybrominated dephenyl ethers (Brominated Flame Retardants) are 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.

Sick of Dust authors call for an aggressive program of regulatory reform, corporate responsibility and consumer action. They stress the need for national level policy reforms and highlight state governments that are taking action in the absence of federal leadership. Legislation to phase out dangerous chemicals has been passed or is moving forward in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon and Washington. 

In addition to Clean Production Action, the following groups helped coordinate research for the 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. 

Sources:  Press Release, Hazardous Chemicals found in Household Dust Across U.S., New Report Says, March 22, 2005, Safer Products Project, Sick of Dust:  Chemicals in Common Products – A Needless Health Risk In Our Homes, March 2005, Pat Costner, Beverly Thorpe and Alexandra McPherson.
Contact:  Clean Production Action, 716-805-1056, For the full report visit

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