The findings suggest that each day, household dust exposes most Americans — particularly children, who face heightened risks because of their still-developing bodies — to chemicals that have been associated with potential health risks, especially when ingested over long periods of time.
“The number and levels of toxic chemicals that are likely in every one of our living rooms was shocking to me,” Veena Singla, a co-author of the study and a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an announcement about the findings.
Ami Zota, another co-author and a professor at George Washington University’s School of Public Health, said researchers examined 26 peer-reviewed studies on chemicals in dust, including one unpublished data set, across 14 different states. They identified 45 chemicals from five chemical classes. In particular, they found 10 potentially harmful chemicals in 90 percent of all dust samples. The details of those are here:
The dangers of many of these chemicals in humans, for the most part, remain poorly understood. In addition, it can be extremely difficult to associate specific health problems with a specific chemical exposure. And the researchers behind Wednesday’s dust study acknowledged the limitations they faced, including the fact that there is scant research on some of the chemicals they found. They also said that because the data came mostly from dust samples gathered on the East and West coasts, the findings might not be nationally representative.
But part of the value of Wednesday’s study is in how it details that a person’s exposure to chemicals can come from a wide variety of sources — and that small amounts can add up over time. People understandably think of chemical exposures coming mainly through soil, water and the air we breathe. But the universe of exposure could be wider than that, and the implications can be especially critical for young children.
“I don’t think we’ve really appreciated the exposure route of dust as much. It’s not often the first thing we think of,” said Tracey Woodruff,
director of the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at the University of California at San Francisco. She was not involved in Wednesday’s study but said it underscores that when it comes to household dust, “there’s an exposure occurring that’s not insignificant.”
That, Woodruff said, should cause policymakers and regulators to take notice.
While it might seem nearly impossible to avoid encountering dust, given that we spend much of our time indoors, researchers said there are simple steps people can take to limit their exposure.
“Individual consumers do have some power to make healthier homes and to reduce individual exposures,” said Zota.
Strategies include frequent handwashing, using a strong vacuum with a HEPA filter, and avoiding personal care and household products that contain potentially harmful chemicals. Earlier this year, the Silent Spring Institute, which contributed to Wednesday’s study, released a mobile app that helps individual consumers find ways to reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals.
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