Indoor Air Pollution Disrupts Hormones

hormone disrupting chemicalsWe're inhaling gender-bending chemicals in our homes.

Chemicals that mimic the female hormone estrogen and block male hormones were found indoors in high concentrations in two communities in northern California, one urban and one rural, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. Researchers from the Silent Spring Institute teamed up with university scientists to measure indoor and outdoor air quality in the industrial city of Richmond, as well as the rural community of Bolinas. The data showed that indoor air pollution was similarly high in both communities, but that many of the outdoor pollutants found in Richmond were also found inside.

This research has implications both for the rising rate of early puberty in girls, and the rise of low sperm counts, testicular cancer and reproductive abnormalities in boys and men.

Gender-bending chemicals, known in scientific circles as endocrine disruptors, are found in scented products such as air fresheners, laundry detergents and perfumes, as well as in body lotions and cosmetics, pesticides, food packaging, furniture, carpet, fuels, adhesives and soft plastics such as shower curtains. In other words they are everywhere.

Hundreds of research papers published in the late 1980s and early 1990s showed definitively that many of the petrochemicals used to make plastics and pesticides affect reproduction and gender in insects, fish and birds, primarily turning males into females, and reducing the ability of males to breed. Research from Norway has shown that sperms counts in men are half of what they were 50 years ago, and research from the U.S. shows that the rate of testicular cancer has tripled in the same time period. Scientist Theo Colburn detailed the effects of endocrine disruptors in her classic book, Our Stolen Future.

Although governments in both the U.S. and Europe have been slow to respond to endocrine-disruptor pollution, in January of this year the FDA finally admitted that it is “concerned” about bisphenol-A (BPA), and in California it has been banned from baby bottles.

The Silent Spring Institute researchers measured indoor air for 104 gender-bending chemicals, most of them in the following categories:

Phthalates, found in fragrances and soft plastics were found in 100% of the homes. This is likely due to their presence in the fragrances (aka fakegrances) found in everything from laundry and dishwasher detergents to perfumes, personal care products, cosmetics, dry cleaning, and (so-called) air fresheners.

Alkylphenols, found in detergents and as “inert” ingredients in pesticides were found in 95% of homes.

Parabens, found in personal care products such as hand sanitizers, body lotions and cosmetics as well as in pharmaceutical products and processed foods, were found in the air of 33% of the Richmond homes. (Parabens are waxy, and are more likely to be found in dust and in the tissues of the body than in the air.)

Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) is found in flame retardants used in furniture, and although the authors did not specify levels, it is widely found in both dust and air in homes. Along with being a gender bender, PBDE also disrupts thyroid function, particularly in the fetus. Indoor PBDE pollution appears to be most specific to California, which, in a perfect example of good intentions gone bad, created strict regulations requiring flame retardants in furniture and bedding.

PCBs, although banned for decades, were found in about half the homes. They were used in industrial insulators and lubricants, and as well as being endocrine disruptors, cause cancer and nervous system disorders.

Pesticides – 23 pesticides were found, and 2-Phenylphenol was found in 100% of the homes. The chemical 2-Phenylphenol is used as an agricultural fungicide, in fruit wax, hand sanitizers and other disinfectants, and is also embedded in many fibers and resins.

Phenols are found in pesticides, dyes, sunscreens, plastics, and have hundreds of industrial uses. The ubiquitous bisphenol-A (BPA), a particularly potent gender bender, was found in over 90% of urine samples taken during 2003-2004 research by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) of exposure to BPA in the U.S. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently reported that even cash register receipts are coated with BPA!

The phenol 4-t-Butylphenol, used widely in adhesives, fuels and in manufacturing, was found in 100% of homes.

While nobody on earth can completely escape petrochemical pollution, it can be minimized by using as many organic products as possible, from food and clothing to personal care products, furniture and carpeting. We humans are most susceptible to endocrine disruptors when we’re in the womb, which makes it especially important for women who may become or are pregnant to be aware of exposure to gender benders.


The website Baby Hopes is a good source of natural pregnancy and baby products.

Here’s where you can find articles on living a toxin-free lifestyle.

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group website is a great source of information on endocrine disruptors.


Rudel RA, Dodson RE, Perovich LJ et al, “Semivolatile Endocrine-Disrupting Compounds in Paired Indoor and Outdoor Air in Two Northern California Communities,” Environ. Sci. Technol. August 3, 2010.

Our Stolen Future –
Article – Emerging science on the impacts of endocrine disruption on reproduction and fertility

Environmental Working Group –
Home is where the hazard is: Indoor toxins may be worse for you than outdoor smog

National Resources Defense Council
Endocrine disruptors

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