An Unnecessary Burden

Indoor Chemical Exposure and Asthma

A large and growing body of scientific research shows that many chemicals in consumer products and building materials are linked to asthma and asthma symptoms.

Maryland PIRG Foundation


Executive Summary


The chronic lung disease asthma is the most common disease affecting children in Maryland, and rates of asthma continue to rise. As of 2010, 16.4% of children in Maryland were reported to have suffered from asthma, compared to a national rate of 12.6%. In the United States as a whole, the prevalence of children with asthma has more than doubled since 1980. Asthma is a major health and financial hardship on families, schools, and the healthcare system.


Exposure to asthma-inducing outdoor air pollution, allergens like dust mites, and genetics, cannot fully explain the rising rates of asthma incidence. Exposure to toxic chemicals indoors may also play a role.


This report focuses on the impacts of toxic chemicals in consumer products on asthma and asthma symptoms. A large and growing body of scientific research shows that many chemicals in consumer products and building materials are linked to asthma and asthma symptoms. Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to harm, as is the developing fetus.


Exposure to toxic chemicals can cause and aggravate asthma. Some toxic chemicals – such as phthalates, bisphenol-A or PCBs– have been linked to asthma risk and may be contributing to the rising incidence of asthma. In addition, certain chemical exposures can also trigger asthma attacks or cause asthma symptoms like wheezing or coughing.


Maryland needs to take greater action to make the products in our lives safer to use, inform the public of the risks associated with chemicals in consumer products, and reduce our exposure to substances that can cause or worsen asthma and other serious diseases.


Common consumer products can pollute the air inside our homes with toxic chemicals that have been linked to asthma development and/or aggravation. For example:


Flooring made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC plastic) emits phthalates. Children and adults in homes and workplaces containing high levels of phthalates are more likely to have been recently diagnosed with asthma or have asthma symptoms.


Many common items, such as canned food containers and store receipts, contain bisphenol-A, a chemical that mimics a hormone crucial for regulating proper growth and development. Infants exposed to bisphenol A in the womb or early in life are more likely to develop increased sensitivity to allergens or symptoms of asthma later in childhood.


Solvent-based paints, spray insulation, flooring adhesives and similar products can pollute indoor air with VOCs such as toluene, diisocyanates and benzene compounds. These chemicals can induce inflammatory reactions in lung cells and have been associated with increased risk of developing asthma.


Many food, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, cleaning and paint products contain glycol ethers. Children exposed to higher levels of these chemicals in indoor air are more likely to suffer from asthma and related allergic diseases.


A single piece of furniture containing high levels of formaldehyde-containing glue – often used in composite wood materials — can contaminate the indoor air within a home at levels linked with respiratory symptoms and asthma diagnosis.


Marylanders need better protection from exposure to toxic chemicals in consumer products.  Options for policy-makers and health advocates:


·         Require that chemical manufacturers publicly disclose information on the uses of and health hazards associated with their chemicals and the ways that people could be exposed in their homes, schools, or places of work.


·         Publish and maintain a list of chemicals of concern that includes the health hazards associated with chemicals of concern and the ways that people could be exposed in their homes, schools, or places of work.


·         Restrict harmful chemicals from consumer products and the built environment where appropriate, beginning with the worst chemicals and applications to which vulnerable population are exposed;


·         Increase and sustain targeted prevention programs that help Marylanders eliminate chemical asthma triggers.


·         Implement existing laws that support green cleaning in schools and Integrated Pest Management in schools.


·         Adopt protections for children and school personnel during construction and renovation, as New York and Connecticut have done.


·         Utilize state Medicaid program powers under the Affordable Care Act to cover home environmental health assessments for children with severe and persistent asthma.


·         Utilize existing Maryland oversight structures such as the Maryland Children’s Environmental Health and Protection Advisory Council and the Maryland Asthma Control Plan to assess additional policies to protect people with asthma from chemical exposures.


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