In 2016, scientists published the most expansive study to date examining the components of a common household nuisance: dust particles. Recently, this study started receiving attention again as folks spend more time inside due to COVID-19 and the upcoming winter season. Consisting of dead skin cells, hair, mites, soil, and other microscopic particles, dust accumulation is a natural phenomenon. Dust components vary from home to home, reflective of the homeowner’s lifestyle. However, these scientists noted that all dust possesses an uncanny ability to carry dangerous cancer-causing agents and pollutants.

A number of volunteer households from Roxbury, Massachusetts and Gadsden County, Florida were selected, and dust samples were collected from these sites. Samples were run through chemical analysis procedures screening for plastic additives (phthalates), fragrance compounds, disinfectants (phenols), and other industrial byproducts. The relative danger of each chemical detected varies, though the study noted that many were considered cancer-causing carcinogens based on chemical safety research. Though it was long speculated that leftover industrial chemicals may breakdown and contaminate homes, this study uniquely showed that the variety of industrial byproducts were expansive and diverse—and there are likely more that went undetected.

A full list of reproductive toxins, hormone disruptors, and carcinogens were compiled for agencies to investigate ways to improve ventilation and reduce exposure. However, it is important to note that the presence of these chemicals is not automatically dangerous—danger is typically measured by time and dose of exposure. Although chemicals can cause damage to cells, the body uses many different mechanisms to regulate, repair, and eliminate this damage. Additionally, the overall impact of industrial chemical exposure via dust is still unknown. This is a primary concern as continued exposure may cause build-up over time, leading to consequences later in life. The group noted that this is the most pressing question to answer in their journey to better understand how dust affects our health.

This study was a broad collaboration between Dr. Susanna Mitro, a previous research associate from George Washington University (GWU); Dr. Robin Dodson, a research scientist at the Silent Spring Institute; Dr. Veena Singla, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in San Francisco, California; Dr. Gary Adamkiewicz, an assistant professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Dr. Angelo Elmi, an associate professor from GWU; Dr. Monica Tilly previously from the NRDC and the University of California, San Francisco; and Dr. Ami Zota, the corresponding author and associate professor from GWU.

 Managing Correspondent: Koby Ljunggren

Press Article: Tracing the Chemistry of Household Dust. C&EN.

Original Article: Consumer Product Chemicals in Indoor Dust: A Quantitative Meta-analysis of U.S. Studies. Environmental Science & Technology.

Image Credit: Pixabay.

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