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A Family Secret You Can't Dust off: An investigation into hazardous chemicals in household dust from Chinese homes Executive Summary

To gauge the level of exposure of the Chinese public to hazardous chemicals in household environments, and better understand the potential for household dust to contribute to such exposure, in March and April, Greenpeace collected dust from a total of 11 households, located in 5 different Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Changsha). It then commissioned an independent laboratory in the Netherlands to test them. The test covers four groups of hazardous chemicals. Research shows that these chemicals are linked with disrupting the endocrine system, immune system, nervous system, and reproductive system. These four groups of hazardous chemicals include: Phthalates, Brominated Flame Retardants (PBDEs & HBCD), Organotins, and Perfluorinated Chemicals. The test results show that there was no clean sample. They also suggest that ordinary dust may be a significant source of additional exposure to hazardous chemicals in the home. Chemicals of all four targeted categories were found in every sample, indicating that people are being exposed to multiple chemicals in their homes. A growing body of scientific research suggests that dust in ordinary households has the potential to expose people, especially children, to hazardous chemicals. These chemicals are used as ingredients and additives in a wide range of common consumer goods. In china, few studies have been done about hazardous chemicals found in household dust and even fewer on this particular combination of them and how that affects human health. Based on the potential human health hazard that these test results represent, Greenpeace strongly urges companies to eliminate all hazardous chemicals in their products and their supply chain, and become champions in delivering a toxics-free future. It also calls for more scientific research in this field, particularly the significance of this exposure route and the potential health risk associated with the exposure to these combinations of chemicals. Greenpeace also recommends that the Chinese government set up a robust chemical management system based on the precautionary principle1 and the substitution principle2. Most importantly, a “priority substances list� should be created to make the phase-out of the most hazardous chemicals that are now on the market the highest priority. The list must include the chemicals known, or suspected to be, toxic to the environment and human health. In addition, there needs to be an information disclosure mechanism so that the public have access to information about hazardous chemicals in consumer products as well as to information about the environment in which they live.


Precautionary principle: In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. 2 Substitution principle: hazardous chemicals should be systematically substituted by less hazardous alternatives or preferably alternatives for which no hazards can be identified.

BACKGROUNDER It is estimated that every year, around 100,000 different types of chemicals are produced and used around the world. In China, more than 45,000 chemicals are registered as “chemicals in commerce� in the official Inventory of Existing Chemical Substances, among which, over 90% have not undergone any health or environmental assessment. The use of chemicals has led to the inevitable contamination of the environment and, consequently, to human exposure. As documented in this new Greenpeace [report/review], in parallel with the rise in the manufacture and use of many chemicals, scientists in China, as well as in many other countries around the world, have noticed a significant increase in human reproductive problems and developmental problems: 1. Reproductive problems in both males and females a) The decline of sperm counts as well as the quality of sperm, b) The rising number of Hypospadias c) Cryptorchidism d) Breast cancer e) Endometriosis 2. Developmental problems in children a) Higher congenital defect rate in newborn babies b) Disrupted genital development c) Abnormal behavior (male feminization, or female masculinization ) and mental decline d) precocious puberty e) obesity The exact causes of the problems is presently unknown; however, there is increasing evidence of a possible link between these problems and exposure to hazardous chemicals. Laboratory studies have shown that certain chemicals may disrupt the hormone (endocrine) system. The presence of many man-made chemicals at current environmental levels may already be negatively affecting the health of wildlife and humans3 by contributing to some of the health trends identified above. The looming crisis calls for immediate response from the scientific community, policy makers, and the corporate world. Greenpeace’s recommendations are: 1. Scientific research on the impact of hazardous chemicals at very low doses should be strengthened. More research should be conducted on the effect of exposure to mixtures of hazardous chemicals. 2. Companies should become champions for a toxic-free future by eliminating all releases of hazardous chemicals from their supply chains and their products. 3. Governments should work towards the elimination of all releases of hazardous chemicals by 3

The grounds for such a hypothesis draw on a number of lines of evidence, including laboratory studies on effects of chemicals in animals, direct measurements of chemical exposure in humans (including presence of chemicals in body tissues), and the findings of correlations between level of exposure to chemicals and incidence of certain disorders.

adopting a political commitment to 'zero discharge' of all hazardous chemicals within one generation, based on the precautionary principle and a preventative approach to chemicals management.

A Family Secret You Can't Dust Off  

An investigation into hazardous chemicals in household dust from Chinese homes.

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