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Pollution, Public Health

Endocrine disruptors and asthma-associated chemicals in consumer products

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Look down a shopping aisle and you will find that labels on household and personal care products list a litany of chemical ingredients. Consumers who prefer less industrial alternatives can choose “green” or “natural” products that claim to be chemical free, but what actually goes into them is often unclear.

A 2012 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, “Endocrine Disruptors and Asthma-Associated Chemicals in Consumer Products,” analyzed the composition of 42 household cleaning and personal care products and 43 “chemical free” products.

Results of the study include:

  • The products analyzed contained 55 different chemical compounds: 50 were found in the 42 conventional samples representing 170 product types, while 41 were detected in 43 “chemical free” samples representing 39 product types.
  • Eleven chemical compounds were detected at concentrations greater than 1%, and 26 were detected at concentrations above 0.1%.
  • Parabens, a class of chemicals that has been associated with reproductive-tract issues, were detected in seven of the “chemical free” products, including three sunscreens that did not list parabens on the label.
  • Vinyl products such as shower curtains were found to contain more than 10% by weight of the compound DEHP, which when present in dust has been associated with asthma and wheezing in children.
  • The risk of exposure to chemical compounds increases as products, both conventional and “chemical free,” are used in combination. “If a consumer used the alternative surface cleaner, tub and tile cleaner, laundry detergent, bar soap, shampoo and conditioner, facial cleanser and lotion, and toothpaste [he or she] would potentially be exposed to at least 19 compounds: 2 parabens, 3 phthalates, MEA, DEA, 5 alkylphenols, and 7 fragrances.”

The authors of the study found that “multiple chemicals of concern [exist] in composites of high market-share products,” and they call for “disclosure of product ingredients [that] would enable researchers to identify exposures for study and risk evaluation and allow consumers to make decisions consistent with their personal values.”

Tags: children, safety, pollution, consumer affairs

    Writer: | Last updated: April 5, 2012

    Citation: Dodson, Robin E.; et al. "Endocrine Disruptors and Asthma-Associated Chemicals in Consumer Products," Environmental Health Perspectives, July 2012, Vol. 120, Issue 7, 935-943, doi: 10.1289/ehp.1104052.

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    Media analysis

    Read the study-related Forbes article titled "Study Highlights Hidden Dangers In Everyday Products -- Even the "Green" Ones."

    1. Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
    2. Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. For example: Does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties (e.g., political groups, business leaders, or community members) and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?

    Study analysis

    Read the full study titled “Endocrine Disruptors and Asthma-Associated Chemicals in Consumer Products.”

    1. What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
    2. Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
    3. What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
    4. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
    5. How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.

    Newswriting and digital reporting assignments

    1. Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
    4. Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
    5. Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
    6. Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.

    Class discussion questions

    1. What is the study’s most important finding?
    2. Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
    3. What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
    4. How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
    5. How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
    6. What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?