East Bay Express - Study Finds Air in Bay Area Homes Is Toxic

November 3, 2010

By Caitlin Esch

Not surprisingly, Richmond does poorly in a test of indoor air quality. But so does bucolic Bolinas.

Excerpt: Those dust bunnies behind the couch may be worse for you than you think. A recent study analyzing air and dust samples from homes in Richmond and Bolinas found more than a hundred separate household and industrial chemicals, most of which are believed to cause cancer and thyroid, reproductive, and neurological disorders.

Air found in homes in both locations contained phenols, a type of chemical found in detergents, paints, plastics, and pesticides that has been shown to harm reproduction in animals; polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which are found in flame retardants used in furniture, electronics, carpet, and baby products, and are believed to affect brain development and disrupt thyroid hormones; and PCBs, which are found in vinyl, pesticides, plastic packaging, and wood finishes, and affect development and cause cancer.

Exposure to any one of these chemicals is probably something to worry about. But the cumulative impact is even worse, according to Jessica Tovar, a Richmond organizer with Communities for a Better Environment. She said the air in some houses contained chemical levels at or above the maximum guidelines set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. "But a guideline doesn't mean it's enforced or that companies are following them," said Tovar. There's very weak enforcement; that's why we exist."

Household Exposure Study in Richmond and Bolinas, California