Household dust can be rife with hazardous chemicals, which could lead to worrisome health risks for you, your family, and pets.
Of all the things we can be worried about, one might not put household dust on the top of the list. Or really on the list at all. But alas, even our dang dust might be a cause for concern.
The special dust mix in a home is based on climate, age of the abode and the number of people who live in it — as well as the occupants' habits. But in most homes, dust consists of a blend of shed human skin, animal fur, decomposing insects, food debris, lint and fibers from clothes, bedding and other fabrics, tracked-in soil, soot, particulate matter from smoking and cooking, lead, arsenic, pesticides, and even DDT.
A scientific study conducted by multiple institutions including George Washington University, Silent Spring Institute, and Natural Resources Defense Council found that building materials and consumer products shed harmful substances into dust, according to Environmental Working Group EWG. The substances include:
• Flame retardants
• Phenols, including bisphenol A
• Perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs
• Fragrance chemicals
The chemicals are entering our homes through consumer products, and flame retardants added to furniture and electronics; BPA can come through food and beverage containers, paper receipts and in some plastics. Other phenols are found in personal care products and cleaners. PFCs come from non-stick, grease-resistant chemicals used to coat waterproof fabrics, upholstery, carpeting, Teflon and other nonstick cookware, and food wrappers like popcorn bags and pizza boxes. Lead dust can come from older homes or older furniture.
And unfortunately, these chemicals can persist inside for years, easily finding their ways into our bodies as we inhale or ingest them as dust. Babies, small children and pets are especially vulnerable because they spend time on the floor, put things in their mouths, and have smaller body weight making them more sensitive to the effects of chemicals during key developmental stages of growth, EWG notes.
Thankfully, there are ways to lessen the damage and exposure to dangerous dust. EWG’s Healthy Living: Home Guide to the rescue! They recommend:
Reducing toxic chemicals in the home:
• Replace older foam products and furniture, especially those made before 2005, which are more likely to contain flame retardant chemicals. Foam furniture is now widely available without added flame retardants, thanks to changes in California’s flammability standards.
• Opt for furniture made from wood and natural fibers.
• Buy rugs and furniture that haven’t been pretreated with stain-repellent chemicals.
• Avoid non-stick pans and kitchen utensils. Opt for stainless steel or cast iron.
• Cut back on fast food and greasy takeout. These foods often come in PFC-treated wrappers.
• Avoid scented personal care and cleaning products.
• Don’t wear shoes inside the home and use a natural-fiber doormat.
• Remember to wash hands frequently and wash children’s hands, especially before meals, to avoid ingestion of flame retardants and other chemicals. Consistent handwashing has been associated with significantly lower body burdens of flame retardants.
Effectively cleaning dust:
• Vacuum often using a vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter and change the filter regularly.
• Wet mop uncarpeted floors.
And importantly, avoid bringing icky chemicals into your house in the first place, more on which you can read about at EWG’s Healthy Living: Home Guide.