Chinese homes full of “toxic dust”


Guest post by chinadialogue apprentice editor Zhang Chun 

Four hazardous chemicals have been identified in a Greenpeace test of household dust in China, in which 11 households in five different Chinese cities were included in a sample. The widespread existence of these substances, which may be linked to reproductive problems and abnormal growth and development in children, is attracting domestic and international attention. The lack of supervision of these substances in China raises alarming concerns.

In March and April this year, Greenpeace collected dust from a total of 11 households across five different Chinese cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Changsha. It then sent the samples to an independent laboratory in Europe to be tested for four groups of hazardous chemicals: phthalates (commonly known as “plasticisers”), brominated flame retardants, organotins, and perfluorinated chemicals. Results reveal that every single sample has been contaminated with these hazardous substances.

Brominated flame retardants and organotins can cause abnormalities in the endocrine, immune and nervous systems. Phthalates, referred to as “environmental hormones”, can disturb the reproductive system. Perfluourinated substances may affect hormone levels. International protocols and developed countries have already instituted regulations strictly limiting or eliminating the use of these four groups of chemicals. 

The vast majority of these substances reside in materials used in the making of consumer products, such as building materials, electronics and furniture. These household products have become of indoor pollutants, as frequent use over time releases harmful substances. A number of developed countries and regions, including the European Union, are working towards a “zero discharge” target by establishing quantifiable reduction targets and timelines for phasing out these hazardous substances. In contrast, Chinese authorities are yet to incorporate these substances into their monitoring and management systems.  

Greenpeace suggests that relevant government authorities implement supply-side measures and set up a robust chemical management system for toxic and hazardous materials, including these four substances.

In addition, Greenpeace has established the first consumer product information disclosure database in China to ensure public access to data on hazardous chemicals. The disclosure system includes information from the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), local industry and commerce departments of quality inspection, the EU Community Rapid Alert System for non-food products (RAPEX) and parallel Greenpeace product monitoring initiatives.

Translated by chinadialogue volunteer Tian Tian