An environmental group is calling for the phaseout of several additives used to make plastic, after finding that the chemicals are commonplace in household dust across the United States.
The group Clean Production Action released a study March 22 that examined dust in 70 homes and said it found a ``soup'' of chemicals linked to health problems: phthalates and organotin used in vinyl, perfluorinated compounds used to make fluoropolymers, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers used as flame retardants in plastics in computers and televisions.
CPA, based in Spring Brook, N.Y., also calls for changing U.S. chemical laws to mirror a new European Union program that will require more testing and stricter authorization for chemicals deemed to have the highest potential risk.
The American Chemistry Council, in Arlington, Va., said the report does not break any new ground, and said scientists have known for years that household dust contains manmade and natural chemicals.
``A study that finds a substance in dust or even measures low levels in our bodies by itself doesn't tell us if there is cause for concern,'' said ACC spokesman Chris VandenHeuvel. ``Just because people have an environmental chemical in their blood or urine does not mean that the chemical causes disease.''
ACC said the industry is working with the Environmental Protection Agency to make chemical health information easily accessible to the public.
The report, funded by several environmentally oriented foundations, marks the first time organotin and perfluorinated chemicals have been found in household dust, according to its authors.
Other studies, such as one by the EPA in 2004, said household dust could be an important source of brominated flame retardants. California, New York and some European countries have banned PBDEs because of concerns about possible health effects.
The report did not attempt to measure whether the exposures from the dust were at levels that caused health problems, but the report's authors said enough warning signs have been raised about the chemicals that exposure should be minimized and safer alternatives found.
``Our position here, and I think it's well-supported by the scientific literature, is that this chemical exposure is avoidable, and carries with it unknown risk,'' said Pat Costner, lead author of the report.
The report recommends not using PVC, and buying carpets, cosmetics, electronics and furniture that don't use the chemicals in the study. And it highlights four companies - Dell Inc., Ikea, Herman Miller Inc. and Shaw Carpets Inc. - that it said phased out hazardous chemicals in favor of safer alternatives.
The report said phthalates were found at the highest concentration in the dust, followed by the flame retardants, organotin and the perfluorinated compounds.
Beverly Thorpe, CPA's international director, said she is cautiously optimistic that action by EU and in a few states in the United States will have a ``ripple effect'' of putting pressure on the United States to change its chemical regulations.
She said a CPA survey of 35 leading companies and retailers found most do not have policies for researching safer chemicals.