Toxic chemicals are hiding in your house dust


Story highlights

A new study reviewed all data on chemicals in house dust

A total of 45 chemicals were identified, with 10 found in 90% of US homes

The most common classes of chemicals found were phthalates and flame retardants

CNN —  

When was the last time you dusted your house?

Your answer could reveal a lot about your home habits, but the findings of a new study might have everyone upping their game – and potentially keeping wet wipes and hand sanitizer nearby at all times.

Researchers at George Washington University say 45 toxic chemicals are found commonly in your house dust, with 10 of them lurking in 90% of homes across the country.

“We wanted to identify which chemicals were present at the highest exposure in homes,” said Dr. Ami Zota, an assistant professor of environmental occupational health who led the study. “Some chemicals were in virtually every dust sample.”

To reveal which potential toxins we’re being exposed to in the comfort of our own homes, Zota’s team analyzed all studies that have sampled indoor environments in the United States since 2000. They looked for the presence of potentially toxic chemicals and divided them into five classes of chemicals, two of which were found to be more common than the rest: phthalates and flame retardants.

“Many of the top 10 fall into these two categories,” Zota said.

But when factoring in the wide range of chemicals we’re exposed to, small amounts can add up, she stressed.

Lurking in the dust

The chemicals found in dust samples came from a range of things typically found inside your home, including vinyl products – such as flooring – cosmetics, baby products, furniture and nail polish.

To understand how these chemicals are entering your home, it helps to understand where they are used. Phthalates make plastic softer and more flexible, so they tend to be found in vinyl (PVC) materials such as flooring, blinds and food packaging. Flame retardants help products meet flammability standards that are built into building codes, insurance requirements and fire regulations.

The other three classes of chemicals found in dust samples included environmental phenols, usually used as preservatives in personal care products like shampoo; fluorinated chemicals, used as stain- and water-repellent treatments for upholstery, carpets and clothes and in nonstick pans; and fragrances.

Only one chemical used in fragrances had been the topic of a study, meaning many more chemicals are likely to be present in dust with little insight into them, according to the researchers. “We know very little about the health hazard of these fragrances,” said Zota.

But the researchers note that it is about more than exposure. For example, phthalates were detected in the highest concentrations in the study, but the chemicals found in flame retardants had the “highest estimated intake,” meaning they are more likely to enter the body.