By: Markham Heid
Excerpt: Break out the mop and feather duster. The dust in your home is probably coated in unhealthy chemicals, finds a new study appearing in Environmental Science and Technology.
Tests of home dust particles found 90% of samples contained at least one known chemical toxin. Phthalates, phenols, flame retardants, and synthetic fragrance chemicals were among the most common toxins that turned up in the study's samples.
"[These chemicals] are associated with health hazards including toxicity to the reproductive system, hormone disruption, and cancer," says study coauthor Veena Singla, PhD, a staff scientist with the non-profit National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Getting specific, thyroid disease, obesity, diabetes, breast and prostate cancers, IBS, and allergies are just a handful of the many health issues that these chemicals may cause or contribute to, according to NRDC resources. Every year, health issues related to these and similar chemicals cost the U.S. more than $340 billion, according to an analysis from New York University, published today in Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.
How do these toxins end up in your dust? They "leach, migrate, abrade, or off-gas" from your home's furniture, electronics, wall paint, and personal care or cleaning products, the study authors say.
Once these chemicals latch onto your dust, it's easy for you to inhale or ingest them, Singla says. The average American spends 90% of her time indoors and around dust, and multiple studies have found most of us have these chemicals circulating in our bodies. That's particularly worrisome for young kids and pregnant women—two groups who may be more vulnerable to the hormone-disrupting effects of these toxins.
But the scary reality is that a chemical does not have to be proven safe to end up in the products you buy, Singla says. Just as people are presumed innocent until found guilty of a crime, consumer chemicals are usually considered safe unless public groups can prove otherwise.
Especially for chemicals that may take years or decades to cause harm, the duty of paying for product safety testing (and lobbying for stricter industry regulations) tends to fall on universities and non-profits like the NRDC. (The Silent Spring Institute and public health departments at George Washington University, Harvard, and the University of California, San Francisco all chipped in on this dust study.)
"It's not fair for consumers to have to clean up after the chemical industry," Singla says. Unfortunately, that's currently the only way you can protect yourself and your family from many of these chemicals.