indoor air quality

New Reports Reveal Chemical Dangers Indoors and Outside

Just-released research finds widespread pesticide contamination in American homes, and cancer-causing air pollution nationwide. Here’s what to do about it.

New Reports Reveal Chemical Dangers Indoors and Outside

Taking off your shoes when you get home can help keep pollutants out of the house.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Two new reports reveal how Americans are exposed to toxins on a daily basis. One found that measurable levels of insecticides were found in the dust of nearly all U.S. homes studied, including breakdown substances of chemicals banned decades ago, like DDT. A second, released yesterday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), found that people living in 600 neighborhoods across the country are at an increased risk of cancer due to air pollution.

THE DETAILS: In the pesticide report, researchers used alcohol wipes to collect dust samples from hard surfaced floors in about 500 homes throughout the country. The testing is part of the EPA and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s American Healthy Homes Survey. The sampling found that permethrin, used in many dog flea and tick treatments, and in foggers and sprays designed to kill bugs, turned up in nearly 90 percent of homes. It’s classified as a likely human carcinogen by the EPA. Researchers also detected breakdown products from DDT, a pesticide that was banned for use in the U.S. in 1972. Other contaminants included:

• Chlorpyrifos, a common lawn and crop chemical deemed moderately toxic to humans

• Chlordane, a banned pesticide that still persists in soil and water

• Piperonyl butoxide, labeled slightly toxic by the EPA and a potential hormone disruptor

• Cypermethrin, a moderately toxic chemical used for bug control in non-food areas of businesses, schools, nursing homes, and houses

• Fipronil, an EPA possible carcinogen, found in flea and tick sprays and topical solutions like Frontline, and used in ant and roach baits

In the EPA’s air pollution report, which looked at data from 2002, researchers found that exposure to benzene, which is commonly found in vehicle exhaust, increased cancer risks nationwide. The presence of factories was also blamed as a major source of some pollution that can increase cancer risks. Places with lots of both traffic and factories were more likely to experience higher cancer risks; examples include areas around Los Angeles, CA and Pittsburgh, PA. Local industrial pollution can create hotspot effects, the report also shows. For example, a dry cleaning operation may emit tetrachloroethylene or methylene chloride, commonly used industrial solvents. That type of local pollution was responsible for a quarter of increased cancer risk. Banned pollutants that are still persist in the environment accounted for nearly half the increased risk of cancer.


Published on: June 25, 2009

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