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Get rid of the dust in 8 easy steps

  • Story Highlights
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers are structurally similar to PCBs
  • Open you windows when you can to freshen the air
  • Use air-conditioning filters with the highest minimum efficiency reporting value
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By Ginny Temple
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( -- Broom or vacuum? Dust mop or Swiffer? We've been trying to figure out the best way to get rid of dust since we first started playing house.

And now there's real reason to get serious about the stuff. A new study from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Environmental Protection Agency suggests that the residues of flame-retardant chemicals in essentials like mattresses and TVs are showing up in household dust.

Scientists found these chemicals -- known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) -- in the dust of all 16 homes they sampled. No one knows whether PBDEs can hurt you. But their structure is strikingly similar to that of PCBs, which are suspected of causing cancer and can definitely alter human development. Some PBDEs are banned in most parts of Europe.

The good news? Some simple changes can really make a difference in your indoor-air quality.

1. Vacuum and dust regularly (once or twice a week should be plenty), and use a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filter. Also, try to avoid sweeping, which only circulates dust.

2. Put used vacuum filters in a bag and close it tightly before discarding. Try to avoid touching the filters with your hands.

3. Open your windows as soon as the weather allows it (including those times when you're vacuuming). A recent study from the Canadian government found that PBDE flame retardants were present in indoor air at concentrations 50 times higher than those found outdoors. Fresh air and ventilation can help dilute indoor concentrations.

4. Don't bother using 'ionizing' or 'ion-generating' stand-alone air purifiers. Recent research shows they're unlikely to reduce particle concentrations and may generate ozone, a respiratory irritant.

5. Go easy on air conditioning; when you turn it on and close your windows, it keeps fresh air from getting in.

6. Use an air-conditioning filter with the highest minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating suitable for your system. The higher the MERV, the more efficient the filter is at removing particles. And change the filter regularly, depending on the manufacturer's specs.

7. Consider buying home furnishings from IKEA (800-434-4532), which phased out PBDEs in 2002. If you're looking for a computer or a cell phone, check out Apple and Motorola products; neither uses PBDEs.

8. If you need new upholstered furniture or carpet, try to buy cotton or wool products, which contain no PBDEs and are naturally fire resistant. And to limit your exposure to the PBDE-laden material, don't reupholster furniture that contains foam. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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Copyright Health Magazine 2009

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