New research has identified at least 45 potentially toxic chemicals in dust samples from homes that come from a broad array of consumer products, including furniture, carpeting, drapes, electronics and toys. While the study did not evaluate whether the chemicals are causing health problems, the researchers behind the study say widespread exposure to these chemicals should be cause for concern as some of them are associated with serious health outcomes, particularly for children.
The study authors said they found 10 harmful chemicals in 90 percent or more of the dust samples analyzed, including a known cancer-causing agent called TDCIPP, which is used as a flame retardant and is found in furniture, baby products and other household items. Another chemical, a phthalate known as DEHP, was detected in 100 percent of the samples. Phthalates are thought to interfere with hormones in the body. They have also been linked to a range of reproductive and developmental health issues, including IQ declines and respiratory problems in children.
Continual exposure to these dustborne chemicals means that even substances that are quickly flushed from the body, like phthalates, continue to be replenished by our indoor environment. Other chemicals, such as flame retardants, tend to accumulate in the body, increasing the health risk over time. The researchers point to four classes of dangerous chemicals that appear in high concentrations in indoor dust.
They include phthalates — used to soften plastics and act as solvents in the manufacture of cosmetics, toys, vinyl flooring and other products — which were found in the highest concentrations in the dust samples. Phenols — used in cleaning products and other household items — were the second-most common chemical class found in dust, followed by flame retardants and highly fluorinated chemicals used to make nonstick cookware, the study found. Evaluating the potential of these chemicals to make their way into children, the researchers found that the flame retardant TCEP had the highest estimated intake. TCEP is added to couches, baby products, electronics and other products.
Four phthalates followed TCEP in terms of highest estimated intake, the study authors said. Dust samples also contained highly fluorinated chemicals such as PFOA and PFOS, which are found in cellphones, pizza boxes and many nonstick, waterproof and stain-resistant products. These chemicals have been linked to problems of the immune, digestive, developmental and endocrine systems, the study authors said.
To reduce your exposure to household dust, wash your hands and your children's hands frequently; vacuum carpets often using a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter, and wet-mopping hard surfaces. Also use online consumer tools to buy safer products, such as furniture without flame retardants or stain guard, or toys that are phthalate-free. Finally, open windows to allow freshair circulation.