Medical News Today: Your furniture may contain harmful chemicals

New research finds that children living in homes with vinyl flooring or sofas that contain flame retardants have traces of potentially harmful toxins in their urine or blood.
mother on sofa with child playing on the floor
New research suggests that sofas and vinyl floors, in particular, contain substances that may harm children’s health.

An increasing number of studies are shedding light on the surprisingly pervasive sources of chemicals that may harm human health.

For instance, studies have suggested that housecleaning products, laundry detergents, and fabric softeners can lead to neurodevelopmental defects.

These types of toxic substances can even be found in shampoo, conditioner, and eye drops.

The bleach we use to clean our homes, for example, has been associated with a higher risk of respiratory problems, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, commonly called COPD.

Even dental floss contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs), which researchers have linked with high cholesterol, some forms of cancer, and thyroid disease.

New research shows that these potentially hazardous substances are even more widespread than we thought. The furniture in our homes could contain chemicals that may harm the health of our children, the new study suggests.

Heather Stapleton, Ph.D., an environmental chemist at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment in Durham, NC, led the new research. She and her team presented the findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting, which this year took place in Washington, DC.

Examining exposure to harmful chemicals

Stapleton and her colleagues examined children’s exposure to substances called semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) in 190 families.

SVOCs are potentially harmful chemicals that are nonetheless present in all indoor environments. Furniture, building materials, and electronics all contain SVOCs.

SVOCs have not been sufficiently investigated, and even less is known about their effects on children.

In the current study, the team examined how these substances affected 203 children over a period of 3 years.

During this time, the researchers analyzed samples of indoor air, dust, and foam contained in the furniture from these children’s homes. The scientists also analyzed handwipe, urine, and blood samples from each child.

“Our primary goal was to investigate links between specific products and children’s exposures and to determine how the exposure happened — was it through breathing, skin contact, or inadvertent dust inhalation,” Stapleton explains.

Phthalate urine concentration 15 times higher

Overall, “we quantified 44 biomarkers of exposure to phthalates, organophosphate esters, brominated flame retardants, parabens, phenols, antibacterial agents, and [PFAs],” the researcher continues.

Specifically, children who lived in homes where the sofa was in the living room had six-times-higher concentrations of flame-retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in their blood serum, compared with children living in homes that did not have PBDE-containing furniture.

Previous studies have suggested that exposure to or ingestion of PBDEs may cause diabetes, liver problems, and thyroid disease, as well as adverse effects on the nervous, immune, and reproductive systems.

A second finding of the new study was that children living in homes with vinyl floors had 15 times more benzyl butyl phthalate in their urine than children who lived in homes without vinyl floors.

Previous research has linked phthalates with asthma, wheezing, and disruption of endocrine function.

Stapleton and colleagues conclude:

Taken together, our results suggest that the home environment is a significant driver of children’s exposure, across classes of SVOCs.”

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