Could Chemical Exposures Increase Your Chance of Catching a Cold?

HBN | June 2019 | Newsletter

Followers of our work at Healthy Building Network are well-versed in the broad range of impacts that chemical exposures can have on our health. Many chemicals that are common in building materials have been linked to cancer, asthma, and effects on the endocrine system.1 Did you also know that more and more studies suggest links between exposure to certain chemicals and our immune systems’ ability to fight infectious diseases? Or that chemicals may contribute to stronger, more antibiotic-resistant bacteria?

A March article in Chemical & Engineering News explores research into these connections, calling out several chemicals that may be found in building products. One such example is that of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS refers to a class of chemicals commonly used in products such as nonstick cookware, firefighting foam, and water- and stain-repellent treatments, including those used for carpet and furniture.2 Chemicals in this class have been linked to immune suppression and may reduce the effectiveness of childhood vaccines. They have also been correlated with an increase in occurrences of the common cold in exposed children. The broad range and growing number of health impacts associated with PFAS chemicals are of particular concern given that these chemicals are highly persistent and are found in the blood of almost all of us.3 For all these reasons, HBN has identified PFAS in flooring as a Transformation Target—a high-priority product category + chemical combination to avoid in buildings.

Much more cross-disciplinary research by toxicologists, epidemiologists, and infectious disease experts is needed in order to better understand the effects of chemicals on our immune systems, on vaccines, and on pathogens themselves. However, in many cases, like that of PFAS, we have more than enough evidence of the impacts of chemicals on our health to know that we want to avoid them whenever possible.


[1] Download HBN’s Transformation Targets for examples of chemicals commonly found in building products and their associated hazards:

[2]  “Product – Chemical Profile for Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in Carpets and Rugs.” Discussion Draft. CA Department of Toxic Substances Control, February 2018.

[3]  “Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and Your Health: PFAS Blood Testing.” Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, January 10, 2018.; “PFOA, PFOS, and Other PFASs: Basic Information on PFAS.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed June 6, 2019.