Greenpeace exposes hidden poisons in our homes

Environmental, health and consumer groups call on EU to

Press release - 30 April, 2003

New research released today shows that dust collected from homes across Europe contains substantial amounts of hazardous chemicals, some of them linked to cancer. The Greenpeace report Consuming Chemicals [1] reveals that homes are contaminated by "hidden" toxic chemicals contained in everyday household consumer products including textiles, televisions, cosmetics and toys.

At a press conference in Brussels the European Public Health Association (EPHA), and the European Consumers Organisation (BEUC) joined Greenpeace in demanding new legislation that will protect citizens from hazardous chemicals. With a review of EU chemical policy currently underway [2] they urged the European Commission not to miss this opportunity but to propose tough measures to substitute hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives.

"This report exposes the fact that widespread chemical contamination is in our homes, our offices and everyday lives. People expect pollution from roads and factories but not from household products," said Mark Strutt, Greenpeace chemicals campaigner. "Only when companies are legally obliged to substitute dangerous chemicals for the safest alternatives will we be able to rid our environment, homes and lives of these lingering chemicals that threaten us."

The dust samples were collected by Greenpeace in homes in the UK, France, Spain, Denmark, Sweden and Finland and analysed by independent laboratories for harmful pollutants (3) The analyses revealed substantial amounts of:

- hormone disrupting alkylphenols, used in cosmetics and other personal care products

- phthalate esters which are harmful to the reproductive system, used mainly to soften PVC and are found in products such as toys, car interiors, cables. Also used in perfumes and cosmetics, inks, adhesives, paints and sealants.

- brominated chemicals which disrupt hormones, used as fire retardants

- chlorinated paraffins which may cause cancer, used in paints, plastics and rubbers.

- Organotin compounds used as stabilisers in plastics especially PVC and as a treatment against mould and dust mites in some carpets an d PVC flooring. These are toxic to the immune system.

Manufacturers claim that these chemicals are bound into products and present no risk. The Greenpeace research reveals that this is not true - hazardous chemicals escape into our home environment where we can breathe in the dust and with it the chemicals it contains. We can also ingest chemicals from contaminated food, or, in the case of children, by sucking on toys. Other chemicals can be absorbed directly through our skin.

Said Tamsin Rose, EPHA General Secretary, "We are surrounded by chemicals, most of which we are unaware of, but their impact on our health can be extremely serious particularly over a long period of time. Rising levels of cancer, neuro-developmental disorders, asthma and allergies have all been linked to environmental causes. The danger to our children is even greater because developing bodies are more vulnerable to contaminants. The European Commission must seize this critical opportunity to ensure that harmful chemicals are withdrawn from the European market. "

The current EU wide review of chemicals policy was initiated by the Commission in February 2001 in response to mounting concern about the effectiveness of existing legislation.

Stefan Craenen, Health, Safety and Environment Policy Assistant, BEUC, added "The current EU chemicals policy allows chemicals in some consumer products and not others, but it's high time for a consistent approach. Consumers shouldn't have to worry about the safety of a daily "cocktail" of chemicals in products from mascara to toys. Hazardous chemicals should never be in these products - and the principle of substitution should therefore be a core part of the new chemicals legislation."

Notes: (1) 'Consuming chemicals: Hazardous chemicals in house dust as an indicator of chemical exposure in the home' can be found at (2) The EU has proposed new laws that will enable the chemicals of highest concern, the sort of chemicals studied in "Consuming Chemicals", to be identified. An "authorisation" will be required to continue production of these substances. Greenpeace supports this approach, but without the next step it will mean nothing. The second step must be to clearly state that where a viable, safer alternative exists, an authorisation will not be granted. If a viable, safer alternative does not exist and the chemical in question has a socially useful function, production can continue for a limited time period only, while a viable alternative is developed. This is the principle of mandatory substitution which Greenpeace urges the European Commission to enshrine in EU law.(3) Dust was collected from 100 volunteer households in the UK and compared with a small number of samples from other countries (three each from Finland and Denmark, two from Sweden and one each from France and Spain). They were analysed at laboratories in the UK, the Netherlands and Germany for each of the five target groups of hazardous chemicals listed above. On average each gramme of dust contained a total of around half a milligramme (1 part in 2000) of the five hazardous chemical groups specifically quantified. The identification of a diversity of other man-made chemicals in the qualitative screening analysis suggests that the overall chemical content of house dust may be substantially higher.