Study finds worrisome chemicals in wide range of consumer products

Consumer Reports News: March 09, 2012 05:08 PM


A new study has found potentially harmful chemicals, such as asthma-related compounds and endocrine disruptors, in common consumer products including cosmetics, household cleaners, and personal care products, and many of the detected chemicals are not listed on product labels.

The study, which tested 213 commercial products representing 50 product types, was conducted by the Silent Spring Institute and published this week in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The tested products included diapers, cat litter, dryer sheets, hand soap, laundry detergent, lipstick, perfume, shampoo, shaving cream, and sunscreen, among many others.

For testing purposes, many of the conventional products were combined into composite samples, therefore results cannot be linked to a specific product, while "alternative products" in the same categories but labeled "natural," "green," or "non-toxic,"—all unverified claims with little to no meaning—were tested individually.

The study authors detected 55 compounds, indicating a wide range of exposures from common products, both conventional and alternative. According to the study, "Vinyl products contained >10 percent DEHP, a phthalate used to make PVC pliable," which could be a source of DEHP in homes. In other products, the highest concentrations of the tested compounds were in fragranced products such as perfume, air fresheners, and dryer sheets, as well as in sunscreens. Alternative products that didn't contain the better-known endocrine-disrupting phthalates (e.g. DEHP, DEP, BBP) contained other lesser-known phthalates.

The Silent Spring Institute states that the study represents only a fraction of consumer products and a small number of the chemicals used in products, and that since manufacturers are continually reformulating products, tests results may not apply to products currently for sale.

Last year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted to require manufacturers to perform third-party testing for phthalates in children’s toys and care articles, to make sure they meet phthalate limits set by the federal government. Around that same time we also reported on an author's concerns about pervasive plastics and children’s development. Back in 2008, the CPSC banned three types of phthalates (DEHP, DEP, and BBP) in children’s bedding, toys and care articles and, in addition, banned three other phthalates (DINP, DIDP, DnOP) in teethers, toys and care articles that can be put into a baby’s mouth. For more on phthalates and when the ban became law in 2009 see New ban on plastic chemical. The EU banned these same phthalates back in 2005.

We also found that consumers are being exposed to worrisome concentrations of arsenic in foods and beverages in our Consumer Reports’ investigation, which found elevated levels of arsenic in apple and grape juices.

Endocrine Disruptors and Asthma-Associated Chemicals in Consumer Products [Environmental Health Perspectives]
Table: Consumer products tested for endocrine disruptors and asthma-associated chemicals [Silent Spring Institute]

Maggie Shader

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