Homes have always been plagued by dust. But dust is no longer just a harmless nuisance. Today, the film of tiny particles coating furniture and floors and collecting in corners is often a micro-army of toxins.
A recent George Washington University study found that 90% of dust samples collected in 14 states contained more than 45 toxic and harmful chemicals that originate in common household items, including vinyl flooring, cleaning products, personal care products and building materials. The substances they identified can cause cancer, reproductive problems, impair a child’s development and cause cognitive damage, asthma, allergies, and other health issues.
Flame retardants, household pesticides, pet dander, lead, mold and the filth you track in from outside on your shoes are constantly airborne and landing on surfaces in your home – your counters, tables, computers, bed sheets, couches, carpets, children’s toys, floors, and more. That means every time you breathe or come into contact with those surfaces and touch your nose, mouth, or eyes, you may be ingesting dangerous toxins. The only way to find out if any of these harmful substances are lurking in your home is to have a professional dust characterization test done.
Besides testing, there are other steps you can take to ensure that harmful chemicals do not become airborne. Choosing eco-friendly furniture, bedding, cleaning products, and personal care items, for instance, is another step in the right direction.
“This is one area where you want to be safe, because you spend a significant amount of time in your home,” says Robert Weitz, Principal and Senior Project Manager with RTK Environmental Group, an environmental inspection company in the Northeast. “Every home’s ‘dust profile’ is as unique as a fingerprint,” he says. “You can’t imagine some of the things we’ve found in common household dust – everything from human feces to rat hair to asbestos. The only way to know what you’re breathing, and the sources of that dust, is with a professional test.”
Even low level exposure to dust can cause problems, especially in children, who are more vulnerable because they tend to ingest dust on the ground where their toys are found and when they put their fingers in their mouths.
Here are some of the substances to watch out for:
Exposure to fire retardants called PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, at critical points in a child’s development can damage reproductive systems and impair learning, memory and motor skills and cause changes in behavior, according to the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting human health and healthy environments. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says PBDEs have been known to affect the thyroid and liver and brain development in laboratory animals. Another common flame retardant, called TDCPP, has been linked to cancer in laboratory animals.
Other chemicals frequently found in dust are phthalates, which are used to make plastics more flexible and tougher. They are found in many common items such as vinyl flooring, detergents, plastic packaging, garden hoses and some children’s toys. While the long-term effects on humans of exposure are unknown, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they have been shown to harm laboratory animals’ reproductive systems.
Lead is another issue. When people try to protect their children from exposure to the heavy metal, they think about paint on the walls and windowsills. But lead, which can affect nearly every system in the body, also gets into the air in minute particles that become part of dust.
“Many of the health complications that the chemicals cause don’t show up for years – then it’s too late,” Weitz said. “The bottom line is, you just don’t know what you’re breathing until you have it tested. Once you have your home or office tested, you can take the necessary steps to minimize the issues causing the chemicals in the dust, and breathe easier – in every way.”
If you’d like more information about dust characterization testing or to set up a test, please feel free to call us at (800) 392-6468.