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Climate warning

Common US consumer products release toxic compounds

Some of the most common consumer products probably release 5,000 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in American homes annually, new research on the dangerous class of chemicals finds.
The research, which analyzed ingredient lists across dozens of product categories, found the most concerning levels in general purpose cleaners, art supplies and laundry detergents, while the individual product that emitted the most VOCs was mothballs.
The sum of the exposures present a health risk for average consumers and especially those working with many of the products in a professional capacity. The findings are “alarming”, said Kristin Knox, a scientist at Silent Spring Institute and study co-author.
“It just highlights that there are a lot of products that people use every day that contain many of these harmful chemicals,” she added.
VOCs are a widely used class of chemicals that can detach from or are emitted from surfaces or products and move through the air. Many pose health risks and are carcinogenic, or bond with other chemicals to form air pollution.
The study is the first analysis to make use of ingredient data that manufacturers are required to submit to the state of California’s air resources board. Carb tracks VOCs in consumer products in an effort to reduce smog. In the presence of sunlight, VOCs react with other air pollutants to form ozone, the main ingredient in smog.
However, the study was limited to VOCs, and many products can contain other chemicals that are not identified. The peer-reviewed research was conducted by the University of California, Berkley, and the Silent Spring Institute environmental non-profit.
Overall, the research found more than 100 products with VOCs, and 30 – including a dozen different types of personal care products – that researchers say deserve special scrutiny because the goods frequently contain VOCs and may pose the greatest health risk. VOCs can be inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin, and many products contained more than one kind of the compounds.
“It’s not just one product at a time, like your dish detergent, it’s the fact that we use multiple products every day and each of these products could have different [VOCs] in them, so all of this really adds up in our daily lives,” said Robin Dodson, a scientist with Silent Spring Institute and study co-author.
Among products used on the body, the most common VOC was formaldehyde, which was listed as an ingredient in nail polish, shampoo, makeup and other kinds of personal care items. Industry adds the substance to function as a preservative. Mothballs, meanwhile, emit about 300 tons of 1,4-dichlorobenzene, a likely carcinogen that comprises about 99% of the ingredients in the insect repellant, though Knox noted that safer alternatives, like cedar chips, exist.

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  • Patrik Lobergh

    59 w

    @ George: shouldn't this warning go to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) instead? 🤔 Patrik

    • Tabitha Kimani

      59 w

      No wonder the many illnesses affecting the citizens.


      59 w

      I agree. We hardly know or understand about the health impact due to VOC emission from one particular product or cumulative emission from a whole set of household products. Awareness generation is required. Should we have VOC estimator for citizens like climate foot print estimators? I shall try to post this idea also in climate idea 💡 section. Gratitude for sharing.

      • Daniel Waweru

        59 w

        Something needs to be done

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