New Study Finds Vinyl Plasticizers a Major Contaminant in Household Dust

Margie Kelly | March 22, 2005 | Materials

Chemicals From Common Products Create "Toxic Cocktail" in Homes

Toxic chemicals common to home furnishings and electronic equipment have been found in household dust, including chemicals internationally recognized as harmful or toxic to the immune and reproductive systems; babies and young children are particularly at risk from exposure. That is the finding of a new report released today, Sick of Dust: Chemicals in Common Products, which investigated six classes of chemicals in dust samples taken from 70 homes in seven states across the U.S.[1] Among the chemicals documented in household dust are two -- phthalate plasticizers and organotin stabilizers -- that are ubiquitous in PVC vinyl building materials.

Over 90% of phthalates manufactured are used in PVC products, and have been documented as leaching from shower curtains and flooring.[2] Animal studies have found phthalates disrupt reproductive systems, particularly in male offspring, and can contribute to male infertility.[3] Phthalates have also been linked to asthma and respiratory problems in children.[4]

Organotins, which are found in PVC water pipes, PVC food packaging materials, and many other consumer products, are poisonous in even small amounts, and can disrupt the hormone, reproductive, and immune systems.

In addition to the two chemicals commonly associated with PVC building materials, the report also found high concentrations of brominated flame retardants, which are incorporated into many plastics, including PVC, and electrical goods. Studies have revealed the breast milk of American women has 10 to 100 times higher concentration of PBDE, a type of flame retardant, than European women.[5] According to Sick of Dust, a recent study indicates that levels of PBDE in Swedish breast milk began to decrease in 1997, possibly due to a voluntary phase-out of penta-DBE.[6]

These findings add to the momentum of an anti-PVC movement which, according to a feature article in the Christian Science Monitor, is "picking up steam,"[7] and provide additional ammunition for the many commenters who took aim at the USGBC's draft PVC report that found "PVC does not emerge as a clear winner or loser."[8]

The Sick of Dust report ranks brand name companies and retailers on their use of hazardous chemicals, and provides an outline of fundamental changes needed to bring American chemical regulation up to a level that will protect basic health today and in future generations. But the easiest way to eliminate phthalates and organotins from household dust is to eliminate PVC from the household.



The Christian Science Monitor published a story about PVC on March 17, writing, "With [environmentalists'] prodding, an anti-PVC movement is picking up steam and some high profile corporations have begun to eliminate it from their production lines." Bill Walsh, HBN's National Coordinator is quoted, as is HBN's briefing paper, written by Joe Thornton.



The Healthy Building Network will be at the EnvironDesign9 conference, scheduled for April 20 to 22, 2005, at the Marriott Marquis in New York City. Now in its ninth year, EnvironDesign has a proven track record as a pioneering and innovative conference known for consistently raising the bar in an effort to ensure that sustainable design is the defining issue for the 21st century.

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[1] In addition to the phthalates, organotins and brominated flame retardants discussed in this article, the testing also detected pesticides, alkylphenols (used as emulsifiers, lubricants or anti-oxidants in laundry detergents, textiles, leather, paints, disinfecting cleaners, all-purpose cleaners, spot removers, hair-coloring, cosmetics, adhesives, some plastics and pesticides), and perfluorinated compounds (used as floor polishes, adhesives, and in oil-, water-, and stain-resistant products, like Teflon and Goretex, which are found in common products like non-stick pans, clothing, stainproof carpets, and furniture).

Sick of Dust is the first U.S. study to find organotins and perfluorinated compounds in household dust. See the Sick of Dust report at

[2] Phthalates not used in vinyl are also found in personal care products like nail polish and skin creams, as well as detergents, paints, caulk, and more. See Sick of Dust, p. 16 at

[3] See studies listed in Sick of Dust Appendices, pgs 53-54 at

[4] See Healthy Building News "Two Independent Critiques Of Vinyl Building Materials Link Flooring & Asthma, Reproductive Problems & PVC Combustion" citing Bornehag, C, et al., "The Association between Asthma and Allergic Symptoms in Children and Phthalates in House Dust: A Nested Case-Control Study" Environmental Health Perspectives October, 2004; 112:1393-1397 (2004).

[5] Sick of Dust, pgs. 20-21.

[6] Sick of Dust, pg. 21.

[7] Christian Science Monitor "So Durable It's Hard to Get Rid Of" March 17, 2005

[8] USGBC's "Assessment of Technical Basis for a PVC-Related Materials Credit in LEED" page 10. This report can be downloaded at For critiques of the USGBC report, see