Analysis finds dangerous chemicals in household dust


Our environment contains all kinds of more or less dangerous chemicals. Some of them have even reached as far as the Arctic Circle and the south pole, the highest mountain peaks and deepest seas. The Czech branch of the environmental group Greenpeace didn't have to go that far to prove that we live in a contaminated world.

The Greenpeace analysis looked at ordinary house dust from the offices of three well-known people - the actor Jaroslav Dusek, the head of health officer Michael Vit, and senator Jaromir Stetina. The result - the dust samples contained four different kinds of chemicals. Dr Miroslav Suta, is a specialist on toxic material.

"We have found many dangerous chemicals. For example, bromine flame retardants, chlorinated paraffins."

All these chemicals are toxic, take long to diffuse, and therefore stay in the environment for a long time. That means there is a good chance they can affect our health. One such kind of chemical, phthalates, when present in a human body, may cause a hormonal system disorder, asthma, or allergies. The others can have a dangerous impact on skeletal development, the brain - and so, the nervous system - and may cause cancer.

The chemicals that Greenpeace found in these Czech homes are used in the production of toys, cosmetics, computers, phones, cleaning products and other things used on a daily basis.

Dr. Miroslav Suta says there is a solution how to reduce our exposure to such chemicals at home.

"One solution is replacing one chemical by other chemical. It is possible to change material, for example something from PVC is possible to produce from metal or wood. We can also redesign electronics - computers, monitor for computers or cell phones. Many big companies, big names like IKEA or Nokia agreed, on voluntary basis, with Greenpeace and consumer organisations to phase out many dangerous chemicals."

Europe is the biggest producer of chemicals and it also has the biggest chemical market. There are more than 70 000 chemicals for sale. And very little is known about the toxicity of three-quarters of them. Greenpeace has been calling for a Europe-wide new regulation system that would protect the environment and health.

New regulations are being discussed by responsible European Union organizations. A new system called REACH - an acronym that means to register, evaluate, and authorize chemicals - is now in place. Dr Miroslav Suta:

"There are two important purposes. One is to collect data about chemicals because thousand and thousand chemicals are produced without enough information about human health and environmental aspects and second is a substitution of dangerous chemicals as we analyzed in house dust."

But the strict rules that should come into effect in 2007 are not popular among producers of chemicals. They are neither in favor of concealing information about chemicals nor of avoiding the controlled use of dangerous chemicals.

REACH estimates the system could prevent some 4300 cases of cancer and save hundreds of million of euros in health costs.