|Chemical Classes Detected in the Pilot Study
(IN ORDER OF ABUNDANCE IN DUST) SOURCES
|Phthalates||Plastics, adhesives, personal care products, and other sources|
|Alkylphenols||Surfactants in cleaners, inerts in pesticides, personal care products, plastics, and other sources|
|Pesticides, pesticide metabolites||Pesticides|
|Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)||Products of combustion|
|Parabens||Personal care products and other sources|
|Phenolics (e.g., bisphenol A)||Plastics, personal care products, and other sources|
|Miscellaneous (e.g., dichlorophenol, nitrophenol)||Miscellaneous household products|
|Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)||Electrical equipment|
Southwest Research Institute and the Harvard School of Public Health, appeared in the April 2001 issue of the Journal of Air and Waste Management Association. In this study, the researchers sought to develop new methods to investigate compounds in indoor air and dust that may cause mammary tumors in animals or disrupt the human endocrine system—and thus may be linked to breast cancer development.
“There are few steps that women can take to lower their risk of breast cancer,” Rudel says. “Identifying breast carcinogens could be an important advance in leading to risk reduction. With the development of these new environmental testing methods, researchers can identify what women are exposed to and begin to prioritize the chemicals most urgently in need of further study.”
The study involved seven homes and workplaces, as well as air collected during an 11-hour shopping trip. The researchers set up pumps to draw air samples from women’s homes, vacuumed living areas to collect dust, and packed their equipment in a tote bag for a day of errands at a dry cleaner, a variety of stores, and a gas station. Dust samples in particular can be excellent markers for historical exposures for some compounds.
In most of the samples they collected, the researchers detected phthalates, which derive from plastics; alkylphenols, which are found in detergents; and pesticides. Overall, they found 12 different pesticides and high levels of endocrine disruptors from plastics. In one home, the researchers found 27 target compounds in dust and 15 in air samples, providing an indication of chemical mixtures to which humans are typically exposed.
The researchers are now applying these new methods to 120 homes on Cape Cod as part of the Institute’s ongoing study of breast cancer there. This larger data set is expected to yield a fuller picture of the most common contaminants.
“We don’t need to wait until we have exhaustive data,” says Julia Brody, PhD, executive director of Silent Spring Institute. “We can use sampling results now to design pollution prevention programs, toxicologic testing, and health research for the compounds we find most often and at the highest concentrations.” ■