Household Dust Can Be a Health Hazard

Household dust may be exposing you to a host of potentially toxic chemicals from products you use every day, according to a study led by researchers at George Washington University.

Chemicals from household items, such as vinyl flooring, personal care items, cleaning products, and furniture, are released into the air and get trapped in small particles of dust. The dust can then be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin.

To identify the toxic chemicals most commonly found in dust, the researchers analyzed data from 34 published papers and two abstracts on dust samples collected in different geographic locations throughout the United States.

They identified 10 potentially toxic chemicals that were found in more than 90 percent of the dust samples. Number one on the list was DEHP, which belongs to a hazardous class of chemicals called phthalates.

Rounding out the top three were phenols and flame-retardant chemicals. Phthalates are used to make plastic more flexible and, along with phenols, are used as preservatives in many personal-care products as well.

It’s not clear what level of exposure to this type of dust will lead to harm. Still, keeping household dust to a minimum is a good practice, especially if you suffer from chronic lung disease.

Experts recommend dusting with a damp cloth, regularly cleaning your floors with a wet mop, and using a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.

Environmental Science & Technology, published online, September 2016

Deborah Kaplan
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