Consumers exposed to toxic chemicals in everyday products

Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Products

Many common consumer products, including nail polish, dish soap and shampoo, contain dangerous chemicals linked to cancer, reproductive or developmental problems, according to a new study.

Published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the research found more than 100 types of products used for personal care and cleaning that contain at least one harmful chemical. Many of the products contain more than one toxic chemical.

About the Research 

Researchers cross-referenced two databases kept by the state of California. One was a list of products that release volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The second list included chemicals that have been identified as carcinogenic or are associated with causing reproductive or developmental harm. The researchers found products containing 33 VOCs that are listed as ingredients in 105 different consumer product categories.

What Kind of Chemicals are in Consumer Products?

The study revealed several dangerous chemicals in consumer products, including:

Dangerous Chemicals Found in a Variety of Consumer Products

Chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and other health issues can be found in a wide range of consumer goods. These include:

  • Outdoor gear: Harmful chemicals known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are found in water-resistant outerwear and other items sold at outdoor retailers. PFAS are a class of over 9,000 human-made chemicals that have nonstick and water-repellent properties, making them popular for use in various consumer items, such as outdoor clothing. They are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down naturally in the environment. Recently, outdoor retailer REI announced it will ban PFAS from clothing and cookware sold at its stores by late 2024. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, PFAS are associated with decreases in infant birth weight, increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer, and other negative health outcomes. In research studies involving lab animals, PFAs have been found to cause birth defects.
  • Crayons: After testing six different kinds of crayons, a consumer advocacy group in the U.S. discovered one brand contained trace amounts of asbestos. The Playskool crayons contained talc, which is used by crayon manufacturers as a binding agent and can be contaminated with asbestos fibers.
  • Beauty products: The carcinogen benzene has been found in a range of personal care products, including spray antiperspirants and spray sunscreens. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified benzene as a known human carcinogen linked to leukemia and other cancers of the blood. Independent testing has confirmed that the chemical can be found in hundreds of personal care items. Exposure to benzene during pregnancy may affect development of the baby and may also harm the male reproductive system. In California, benzene is on Proposition 65 – which requires businesses to provide warnings about significant exposures to certain chemicals– because it can cause cancer, birth defects, and other reproductive harm.

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