Endocrine Disruptors and IAQ

Jul 1, 2010

Most indoor air quality professionals are quite conversant on contaminants such as mold, VOCs, radon and the other “biggies”.  Professionals need to be familiar with a lesser known class of contaminants which include plasticizers and flame retardants.  These contaminants have been reaching the headlines because of research showing their ability to disrupt the endocrine system.

Do what to the what?  Your endocrine system is comprised of your body’s glands that secrete hormones.  Some chemicals can act like hormones and have a serious effect on your health.

Here is a quick run down of some endocrine disruptors you’ll see in the news:

  1. BPA (Bisphenol A):  A plasticizer used to harden polycarbonates that can act as a synthetic estrogen.  There is special concern over BPA in baby bottles.
  2. Phalates: plasticizer used to soften PVC (e.g. shower curtains).  A special concern is over diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) with is a plasticizer used in medical devices.
  3. Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE): flame retardant that is being phased out in favor of organophosphates (which have been shown to also have deleterious effects)

The greatest concern over these chemicals surrounds the reproductive effects.  This includes semen quality, defective eggs, feminization of boys etc.

How do these chemicals affect the indoor air quality?  They can be found in house dust which becomes airborne when disturbed.  Besides inhalation, the ingestion route is of a concern for small children who may put their dust-laden hands in their mouth.  With two small kids at home, I can attest to their proclivity toward having their hands in their mouths!

For more information on this topic, I recommend reading through Environmental Health Perspectives.  They have great articles such as “House Dust Concentrations of Organophosphate Flame Retardants in Relation to Hormone Levels and Semen Quality Parameters”.  I’ll be posting more detailed information on this topic as time goes on.  For now I just wanted to get an introduction up on the blog.