How Dangerous is Dust?
It is estimated that people spend 88% of their time indoors in their homes and at work. And yet when looking at environmental toxins, the emphasis is often placed on external exposure. The fact is, our indoor environments are teeming with toxins. And perhaps the most overlooked source of these toxins is dust.
Toxic particulate matter is suspended and circulated throughout the atmosphere of indoor environments and it is also brought in via building materials, furniture, and footwear. As it turns out, a favorite means of transportation of these toxins is dust. Dust contains a wide variety of toxic chemicals including phthalates, volatile organic compounds, flame retardants, and heavy metals. Interestingly, in a 2017 study, researchers found that the smallest dust particles contained the highest amounts of heavy metals. This means that even dust that isn’t as noticeable, is even more toxic than the more noticeable “dust bunnies.”
Many of the chemicals living and riding on dust particles can be dangerous to health, especially when consistently “consumed” over a long period of time. Some of these chemicals have been shown to disrupt endocrine function, while others place a heavy burden on the detoxification system.
Talking about reducing toxin exposure with patients is always an important conversation. And now it’s time to put dust at the top of the warning list.
To keep dust to a minimum, patients should be advised to:
- Dust frequently with a damp cloth (in high dust areas, this should be done daily if possible)
- Go over hardwood floors with a wet mop
- Use a vacuum that has a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter
- Consistently groom and brush any pets that are in the home
- Caulk and seal cracks and crevices where dust might accumulate
- Use high quality air furnace filters
- Remove shoes at the door so as not to track in chemicals that can adhere to dust
It is estimated that the average home collects about 40 pounds of dust per year—that’s about the size of a typical five-year-old. That’s a lot of dust! And dust is not a benign substance that can simply be irritating. It can actually be dangerous to health. Reducing exposure is critical, especially for those patients who suffer from asthma, allergies or have environmental sensitivities.
Lanzerstorfer C. Variations in the composition of house dust by particle size. Journal of Environmental Science and Health. 2017;52(8):770-777.
Mitro S, Dodson RE, Singla V, et al. Consumer product chemicals in indoor dust: a quantitative-meta-analysis of US studies. Environmental Science and Technology. 2016;50(9):10661-10672.
Rudel RA, Perovich LJ. Endocrine disrupting chemicals in indoor and outdoor air. Atmos Environ. 2009;43(1):170-181.