Researchers have discovered that indoor dust contains a wide variety of chemicals that have been linked to health conditions such as infertility and cancer.

When researchers from the George Washington University, University of California-San Francisco, Silent Spring Institute, Harvard University, and Natural Resources Defense Council carried out a comprehensive assessment of chemicals in consumer products, they were able to identify 45 chemicals across five chemical classes that typically find their way into indoor dust.

In the U.S., people spend, on average, more than 90 percent of their time indoors, such as in homes and offices, which are typically full of dust. However, as the researchers have shown, dust is rarely just dirt.

Indoor dust becomes a concern then because the chemicals it contains can be absorbed into the body when dust is breathed in or accidentally transferred into the mouth. By identifying specifically which chemicals are found in indoor dust, the researchers aim to give people an estimate of their potential exposure.

Young children are the likeliest to be exposed to chemicals in indoor dust as they play on the floor, coming into contact with the dust when they crawl. Kids are also unlikely to wash their hands before putting them into their mouths, so they ingest indoor dust orally.

Not to mention that children are also more vulnerable to the effects of chemical exposure because their bodies and brains are still undergoing development.

For the study, the researchers compiled data from all published studies that analyzed chemical content in indoor dust since 2000. And while they found 45 chemicals commonly found in indoor dust, some chemicals are much more common than others.

The top 10 chemicals found in indoor dust (PDF) are:

1. DEHP (phthalate)

2. DEHA (phthalate)

3. HHCB (fragrance)

4. BBzP (phthalate)

5. TPHP (fire retardant)

6. TDCIPP (fire retardant)

7. DnBP (phthalate)

8. DiBP (phthalate)

9. HBCDD (flame retardant)

10. MeP (phenol)

DEHP, DEHA and HHCB were found in 100 percent of the samples analyzed by the study. The phthalates are found in vinyl floor and food packaging and have been shown to promote issues in the reproductive system. As a fragrance, HHCB, on the other hand, is common in scented products. However, it is unclear what health hazards it presents.

"We think our homes are a safe haven but unfortunately they are being polluted by toxic chemicals from all our products," said Veena Singla, the study's co-author.

How to deduce indoor dust chemical exposure?

• Limit the use of chemicals where you can control it, like in your home. Research safer alternatives to chemical products you usually use.

• Make a habit of washing your hands, but avoid antibacterial and fragranced soaps.

• Keep your home clean to keep indoor dust at bay, using a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate filter or dusting with damp cloth.

Photo: Jasleen Kaur | Flickr

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