What Chemicals are in Your Dust?

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Exposure to and hazards of the chemicals in your dustPeople tend to think that household dust is merely an unsightly nuisance… However, what we call “dust” is really a complex combination of particulates, dander, pollen, fibers, heavy metals, chemicals, mold spores, and more. This  combination doesn’t just pose a cleaning problem; according to a 2016 Issue Brief by the National Resources Defense Council (NDRC) we also breathe dust: 

“Household items like televisions, furniture, beauty products, cleaning products, and flooring materials shed chemicals that end up in the air and in the dust on our floors. These chemicals can enter our bodies from air and dust when we breathe, touch contaminated surfaces, and accidentally transfer them to our food or mouth with our dusty hands. And some of these chemicals can contribute to health problems.”*

Among the most concerning components of household dust are the chemicals.

A 2016 meta-analysis found: “U.S. indoor dust consistently contains chemicals from multiple classes. Phthalates (make plastics more flexible) occurred in the highest concentrations, followed by phenols (various plastics), RFR (resorcinol-formaldehyde resin) (adhesive used in building materials and kitchen cabinets), synthetic fragrance, and PFASs (polyfluoroalkyl, fire resistance and stain repellency).”

These classes of chemicals are all known to impact human health in some way. In some cases, the effects are serious, and can include “reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, cognitive and behavioral impairment in children, cancer, asthma, immune dysfunction, and chronic disease.”**

Often, these health-damaging chemicals are a permanent presence in household dust, meaning that people are exposed at a low-level almost constantly. According to the 2016 study, here is what is likely in your dust (as they appeared in more than 90% of the dust samples studied): 

Chemical (and class)

Health hazards

Common products containing this chemical

DEHP & DEHA (phthalate)

 

Reproductive system and developmental toxicity, hormone disruption

 

Vinyl flooring, food contact materials

 

BBzP (phthalate)

 

Reproductive system and developmental toxicity, hormone disruption

 

Vinyl flooring

 

DnBP &  DiBP (phthalate)

 

Reproductive system and developmental toxicity, hormone disruption

 

Nail polish, paints, Vinyl products, personal care and beauty products

 

HHCB (fragrance)

 

Unknown

 

Scented products

 

TPHP & TDCIPP (flame retardant)

 

Reproductive and nervous system toxicity, cancer

 

Treated furniture, baby products, carpet padding, electronics

 

HBCDD (flame retardant)

 

Reproductive and nervous system toxicity, hormone disruption

 

Polystyrene building insulation

 

MeP (phenol)

 

Reproductive system toxicity, hormone disruption

 

Cosmetics, lotions, deodorants

 

 

How can you reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals in dust?

Most of us spend more than 90% of our time indoors, potentially inhaling and absorbing these chemicals all day long. Children are especially at risk, because they come into more direct contact with dust when they crawl or play on the floor, and they put their hands in their mouths. You can’t eliminate dust, but you can take simple steps to help minimize exposure:  

While you probably don’t need to panic about your exposures to chemicals in dust, minimizing exposure is likely best for your health in the long term. 

A dollar won’t buy much today, but if you saved a dollar every day you would have over $20,000 by the time you retired. If those dollars were chemical exposures from dust you could have some serious health impacts. 

For more, read our article 6 Steps to Minimize Dust at Home.

 

Sources:
* Not Just Dirt: Toxic Chemicals in Indoor Dust,” National Resource Defense Council (2016).
** https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.est.6b02023

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Hayward Score Staff
Hayward Score Staff
Staff articles are researched, written, edited, and reviewed by the Hayward Score team and its network of advocates and subject matter experts.
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