Buying a home? Scientists find 55 dangerous chemicals in building materials

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In a new study from the University of Michigan, researchers found many of the chemicals in a home’s building materials—in the scent of new carpet, the chalky smell of newly hung drywall and of recently refinished floors—might not be great for your health.

In the study, the team screened more than 500 unique chemical-product combinations from chemical composition data reported in the Pharos Project database.

They identified 55 chemicals of concern found in the walls, floors, ceilings and furniture in homes across the United States, including some that have concentrations that are 1,000 times higher than recommended.

Among the worst offenders was formaldehyde, which is often included in wooden furniture, base cabinetry and wood, cork, and bamboo flooring. Formaldehyde is considered a carcinogen and has also been linked to leukemia.

Researchers also found that butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), an antioxidant found in carpet flooring, has actual content 800 times higher than recommended.

And the content of hexamethylene diisocyanate, found in carpeting, was thousands of times higher than the recommended maximum content of 0.2ppm.

According to the EPA, hexamethylene diisocyanate is extremely irritating to the eyes, nose and throat and chronic long-term exposure to hexamethylene diisocyanate may cause lung problems.

Researchers say they hope the findings will provide practitioners and manufacturers with actionable information to develop more sustainable products, and also raise awareness among consumers.

The study clearly demonstrates the need for future research on exposures to chemicals in building materials and the need for further regulation to ensure the safety of chemicals in products in general and in building products in particular.

The study is published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials. One author of the study is Lei Huang.

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