Sofas and vinyl flooring might have been exposing children to potentially harmful semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) linked to neurodevelopmental delays, obesity, reproductive disorders and cancer, among other diseases.

A new study led by Duke University in North Carolina shows that children living in homes with all-vinyl flooring and a common foam used on sofas have significantly high concentrations of flame-retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) and benzyl butyl phthalate metabolite in their blood or urine, EurekAlert reported.

Researchers found that sofas use a type of foam that exposes children to PBDEs, while homes with vinyl flooring were found to have high levels of benzyl butyl phthalate. PBDEs are linked to endocrine and thyroid disruption, obesity and cancer, while benzyl is known to contribute to respiratory disorders, skin irritation, multiple myeolma and reproductive disorders.

“SVOCs are widely used in electronics, furniture and building materials and can be detected in nearly all indoor environments,” said Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemist at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. 

Indoor exposure to the chemicals occur through inhalation, intake of contaminated food and direct contact with the skin. 

“Human exposure to them is widespread, particularly for young children who spend most of their time indoors and have greater exposure to chemicals found in household dust,” she added. 

However, Stapleton noted that there was little research on how household products and materials affect the children's overall exposure to SVOCs. The researchers then started the study in 2014, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Boston University, to help close the gap.  

They analyzed the in-home exposures to SVOCs of more than 200 children from 190 families. Her team took samples of indoor air, indoor dust and foam collected from furniture in each of the children's homes, along with a handwipe sample, urine and blood from each child.

“Our primary goal was to investigate links between specific products and children's exposures, and to determine how the exposure happened — was it through breathing, skin contact or inadvertent dust inhalation,” Stapleton said.

The researchers presented the study at the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.