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EPA Researchers Publish Paper Analyzing Household Products for Chemical Presence

Household cleaning productsPublished March 13, 2018

EPA researchers are using a state-of-the-art approach to screen for chemicals in household products like cotton clothing, carpeting, sunscreen, cleaners, and bath products. Typically, when a product is screened for chemicals, the researcher is only looking for the presence of a few specific chemicals. Using a new approach, called suspect screening, EPA researchers can evaluate products to identify all chemicals present instead of just screening for a limited number of chemicals.

In a new study, EPA researchers used suspect screening to test household products for the presence of a wide variety of chemicals. This approach allows EPA to assess the potential for chemical exposure from products found in typical households and other indoor environments. This information is used to improve computational models that predict human exposure to these chemicals and evaluate chemicals for potential health effects.

In this study, EPA researchers focused their analysis on endocrine disrupting chemicals and flame retardants. One-hundred household products were tested from twenty diverse household product categories, including shampoo and clothing. EPA researchers found 4,270 unique chemical signatures across the 100 products. Of the 4,270 signatures, 1,603 could be tentatively identified using the 2008 National Institute of Standards and Technology spectral database. Chemical standards confirmed the presence of 119 chemical compounds. Although the EPA maintains public databases of known household product chemicals, of the 1,603 chemical signatures identified, 1,404 were not contained in the database.

After further analysis of the data, researchers found flame retardants and chemicals with known estrogenic activity in the products tested. They found endocrine disrupting chemicals in shower curtains, upholstery, and carpet padding.

It is important to note that confirming the presence of a chemical in a household product is by no means a guarantee that exposure has occurred. However, presence in a product is a necessary first step to measure the degree to which someone could be exposed. This data will be used to better measure exposure to chemicals in indoor environments and will help prioritize which chemicals should be screened for potential health effects.

Researchers used computer models to predict the chemical function (e.g., surfactant, colorant) for tentatively identified chemicals with no known function to determine why a chemical might be found in a product. Researchers found chemicals with flame retardant purposes in fabric and vinyl upholsteries, carpets and carpet paddings, cotton clothing, shower curtains, skin lotions, and children’s toys, as well as in one hand soap, baby soap, and breakfast cereal.

The samples used in the study were procured from common retailers and tested by EPA contractors. The analysis was conducted using state-of-the art analytical chemistry methods that can screen products for unique chemical signatures and then match them to a large database for a tentative chemical identification.

EPA researchers have developed the Computational Toxicology Chemistry Dashboard to provide public access to data collected from this study as well as other data on over 760,000 chemicals.

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