C&EN - Tracing the chemistry of household dust

February 7, 2017

By: Janet Pelley

Excerpt: As sure as the sun rises, houses collect dust. It gathers on our knickknacks and dirties the carpets. More than just dirt, house dust is a mix of sloughed-off skin cells, hair, clothing fibers, bacteria, dust mites, bits of dead bugs, soil particles, pollen, and microscopic specks of plastic. It’s our detritus and, it turns out, has a lot to reveal about our lifestyle. ...

The relationship between dust and human health remains uncertain. Researchers know that dust is an important source of exposure to certain pollutants—especially for infants and toddlers, who spend 90% of their time indoors, put almost anything in their mouths, and are more sensitive than adults to many of the compounds found in dust. But they haven’t nailed down the extent of health risks from dust exposure nor which compounds and sources are of greatest concern. ... To reveal the full spectrum of chemicals in dust, researchers are turning to high-powered analytical tools. Dust is no longer something to sweep under the rug. ...

In one new approach, scientists combed through two dozen dust studies of 45 compounds to create a snapshot of nationwide exposures, says Robin E. Dodson, an exposure scientist at the Silent Spring Institute. She and Veena Singla, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, ranked the substances according to the amount in dust and estimated intake and health hazard. 


Everyday Chemical Exposures