Toxic Chemicals Prevalent in Household Dust
Study discloses top 10 consumer product chemicals in dust, with known or suspected health implications.
Indoor dust is proving to be polluted with chemicals from everyday consumer products according to a new comprehensive study released from George Washington University and the Milken Institute. The researchers compiled dust data from households throughout America. Some of these chemicals contain compounds that are well known for adverse health effects, as well as those suspected to cause illness. In total, 45 chemicals were found in samples of ordinary house dust including:
- Phthalates (found in soft plastics)
- Flame retardants
- Synthetic fragrances
- Perfluoroalkyl (acid based substances)
- Environmental phenols (carbolic acid)
- PFOAs and PFOSs (found in consumer goods)
Many of these chemicals found in household dust share severe health risks including cancer, reproductive complications, developmental anomalies, and toxicity to organs that produce hormones. In the dust samples, the most prevalent chemicals included Phthalates, RFRs, phenols, and fragrances. But Phthalates (a chemical in soft plastic) had the highest concentrations. And, because of the toxicity of many of these compounds found in dust, small amounts over time can lead to disease or abnormalities, especially in young children who are the most vulnerable. The study was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Infants and Young Children are Most at Risk
According to Professor and lead author Ami Zota, infants and young children are at high risk of exposure, because the chemicals can be easily ingested or absorbed into their skin as they play on dusty floors. Some of these chemicals found in your home make their way into the air and eventually intermingle with dust particles and are linked to many health problems. Zota and her colleagues analyzed data from over 20 related studies and examined dust samples from households in 14 states. What they discovered was 45 toxic chemicals in the dust samples that came from a variety of consumer and industrial products including home furnishings, building materials, cleaning products, and vinyl flooring.
The researchers found 10 very toxic chemicals in most of the dust samples, but four chemicals were found in high concentrations:
- Phthalates are used in soft plastics and found in products like toys, cosmetics, and vinyl flooring. This is the most toxic chemical found and can lead to health problems in children, such as lowered IQ and breathing disorders.
- Phenols a manufactured chemical, are mainly used in cleaning products and mouthwash. It can have adverse effects on the nervous system.
- Flame retardants are added to textile materials and plastics and are found in many household products including furniture and baby products and are known to cause cancer.
- Fluorinated chemicals are used in non-stick cookware, plastics, and waterproof materials. They are associated with immune, digestive, and developmental disorders in children.
How to Reduce Exposure to Toxic Chemicals in Dust
Co-author and Ph.D. Veena Singla believes the toxic chemicals found in consumer goods and industrial materials should be removed or replaced with safer chemicals. To put people on notice, Singla says it is likely your own home and living room is also contaminated with theses toxic chemicals.
The researchers made recommendations to build on this study and other comparable studies to advance the science of indoor pollution. In the meantime, people can reduce their exposure to the chemicals found in household dust. Simple steps can be taken to lower the dust levels in homes and limit physical exposure. A few of the most important are:
- Wash your hands more frequently
- Avoid the products containing the chemicals
- Use a good vacuum cleaner with a True HEPA filter
- Sweep floors with static sweeping cloths
Environmental Exposure Scientist Robin Dodson says that consumers can make a big difference by purchasing chemical-free products to protect themselves, but also to encourage a shift in the marketplace to sell more environmentally safe products.
"Consumer product chemicals in indoor dust: a quantitative meta-analysis of U.S. studies," published September 14, 2016 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.