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Household Dust Can Be Toxic, Study Says

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Good news for those who clean their homes obsessively – a new study says household dust can expose people to a wide variety of possibly toxic chemicals, so dusting those bookshelves isn’t just a chore.

The team of researchers from George Washington University, Harvard University, the University of California-San Francisco, Silent Spring Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council are calling this the first study of its kind. They conducted a meta-analysis of over two dozen previous works on chemicals present in dust and found that 90% of dust samples from houses across 14 states have harmful chemicals, including one that is linked to cancer.

According to Ami Zota, lead author on the study and assistant professor of environment and occupational health at Milken Institute School of Public Health,

Most studies only measure a few chemicals so it makes it hard to understand typical exposures in homes and work places.

The researchers examined data from 26 peer-reviewed studies and one unpublished work. There were 45 chemicals from five classes in total. Zota said that they wanted to pool data in order to “draw more solid conclusions” regarding chemicals that exist indoors, CBS reports.

The chemicals that appeared came from all kinds of items, from furniture to personal hygiene products to cleaning supplies to food packaging. Zota explained that these chemicals get released into the air then collect on dust present on floors and furniture surfaces. People can then inhale or ingest these chemicals through small dust particles, or even absorb them through the skin.

The team divided the results they had from the previous studies into three: the level of chemical concentration in dust, the amount that might be getting into humans, and how dangerous these chemicals are.

Veena Singla, co-author on the paper and a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “No matter which way we looked at it, there were some chemicals that stood out.”

A total of ten harmful chemicals were present in 90% of the dust samples tested, the highest concentrations in phthalates – a substance used in toys and vinyl. Next in line were phenols, found in cleaning products, flame retardants, and perflouroalkyl substances found in fabrics and food packaging materials.

“Phthalates are linked to multiple health hazards, including reproductive,” Singla said. Flame retardants, on the others hand, have been associated with cancer.

But researchers were especially concerned about children who might be exposed to these chemicals, especially infants and toddlers who crawl on the floor and put things in their mouths.

Singla said in putting these studies together, scientists now have a bigger picture of how much chemicals there really is indoors adding that the extent they found was surprising.

There are still many questions regarding these chemicals, however. For example, there is little known about chemicals in fragrances, Singla said. Zota added that one of their goals was to help researchers and policymakers prioritize on which chemicals to focus on for health purposes.

The researchers say that people can take individual precautions to reduce their exposure, such as washing hands with soap and water, wet-mopping and vacuuming with a HEPA-filter.

The study was published in Environmental Science & Technology.

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