Is House Paint Killing Us?

Breathing can be hazardous to your health. A groundbreaking study by the Environmental Protection Agency has found that virtually every American is inhaling unsafe levels of chemicals, reports CBS News Correspondent Jeffrey Kofman.

The study looked beyond high-profile pollution problems like lead and carbon monoxide, testing for 148 toxins that haven't been examined closely before. It found unsafe levels of at least eight cancer-causing chemicals virtually everywhere in America.

Industry accounts for a third of these pollutants.

Benzene from the gas in our cars and trucks, tractors and even lawnmowers accounts for another third.

But another third of the toxins in our air is from solvents like methyl chloride (used in paint strippers) and the chemicals in paint, pesticides, and dry-cleaning fluids.

"It's almost: We found the problem, and it's us. We're a significant part of the problem," says Robert Shinn, New Jersey environmental commissioner.

Not surprisingly, densely populated states like New Jersey show higher levels of toxins - not just because they have more industry, but because they have more traffic, more people, and more house paint.

Says Shinn, "The perception is that it is an industry problem solely, and it isn't. More and more of it is non-industrial."

The study is controversial because it is based on data collected in 1990. An update based on 1996 data should be completed in the next year, and it is expected to reflect improvements, such as cleaner gasoline.

But the study's supporters say the problem is much bigger than that: It will take nothing less than changing how we live before the chemicals that may be killing us are brought under control.