Hundreds of household items, including furniture, paint and electronics, emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which at high levels can pose health risks.
Polyurethane releases chemicals called volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs and they are found in a host of common household and industrial products including perfumes, pesticides, furniture, candles, incense, carpets and paints.
Exposure to high levels of VOCs can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, and for some compounds, even cancer.
Researchers found the materials used to make mattresses release higher amounts of VOC when heated to body temperature. They also said people may breathe in ‘concerning’ levels of the chemicals when they sleep because their faces are right next to the fabric.
For infants and toddlers inhalation of some such as acetaldehyde, formaldehyde and benzene could reach levels of concern, warned the US team.
Corresponding author Professor Yael Dubowski said: “Emission of VOCs in the sleeping microenvironment is important considering the long duration people spend there.”
Another compound of potential health concern was butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), detected with great variability between mattresses.
In recent years, there has been a growing concern that the wide usage of BHT, including in food and cosmetic products, has carcinogenic potential, on the back of some studies.
VOCs are built into products and are slowly released over months or even years, an example being paint which has a strong odour initially which evaporates over time.
Prof Dubowski and colleagues said so far there is no evidence of adverse health effects from chronic, low level exposure to VOCs.
But they called for further research.
Your pets are also in danger
Many older cats suffer from health problems caused by a hyperactive thyroid and its prevalence has skyrocketed since the first case was diagnosed in 1979. At the same time, new household flame retardants were introduced, and recently, scientists have suspected a link.
While there’s no single cause of the condition, hormone-disturbing chemicals in the environment are thought to be an important factor. A new study involving some furry volunteers suggests that these chemicals include fire retardants commonly found in homes.
In this study, toxicologist researcher Kim Anderson of Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, and colleagues looked at 78 house cats that were aged 7 and older. Half of the cats had hyperthyroidism and half did not. The cats were fitted with silicone pet tags that can pick up volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds.
The new study isn’t even the first to link TDCIPP exposure to feline hyperthyroidism. But the authors say theirs is the first to rely on silicone pet tags as a convenient way to measure how much TDCIPP cats are getting exposed to regularly.
Thyroid disease is also a relatively common problem in dogs.
The dangers of fire retardants to human health
“There are concerns about endocrine disruption and neurotoxic effects, especially for pregnant women and children,” says Asa Bradman, associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the University of California, Berkeley.
Bradman says these flame-retardants work their way out of your furniture and into the dust that coats your floors and other surfaces. From there, you or your children may be exposed by breathing them in or putting something in your mouth like fingers or a toy, that has been in contact with the chemical-coated dust particles.
These include flame retardants in sofas and carpets, as well as phthalates, substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility.
TBBPA, another commonly used type of flame retardant, is added to a range of consumer goods, including televisions, computer circuit boards and furniture, to slow or prevent the growth of a fire.
A study has found it can mimic oestrogen and disrupt the body’s endocrine system, which regulates hormones. The chemical has been responsible for the weight gain known as middle-aged spread, been shown to cause tumours in rats and mice, and has been the subject of years of protracted safety reviews in Europe.
Unfortunately, flame-retardants aren’t the only health concerns lurking in your sofa. Some anti-microbial treatments are also concerning, Blum says. So, too, are stain and water-repelling treatments. “These chemicals, particularly fluorinated compounds, never break down in the environment—never—and they’ve been linked with liver and kidney cancer, and reproductive and developmental problems,” Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute explains.
In addition to reproductive effects, animal tests have found that PBDEs can alter brain development and thyroid hormones, which regulate growth and development of cells and many key bodily functions.
New brominated and chlorinated flame retardants are replacing the old ones, and their potential human effects are unknown.
Some scientists wonder if the new flame retardants are just as bad as the banned ones.
The European Union has estimated the health care costs of these chemicals range into the hundreds of billions.