A Chemical Dust Storm In Your Home: Dozens Of Dangerous Chemicals Lurk In Common Household Dust

A man vacuums while a woman cleans shelves at home.

The Dangers Of Dust: How Chemicals In Common Household Dust Could Be Killing Us

Dust is ubiquitous; just ask anyone who has scrambled to clean the house in anticipation of a visit from the in-laws. We even have cutesy names for when it accumulates under the bed or sofa: who could get angry at a “dust bunny?”

And don’t believe that urban legend that says that most dust is made up of human skin–unless you’re molting like a snake, the percentage of dust in your house made up of you is very low.

In fact, a recent study shows that there is an alarming amount of dangerous chemicals present in most household dust, to the point where it could be harming babies and possible even adults.

The study, commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council in California and published in the journal Environmental and Science Technology looked at data from 26 previously published, peer-reviewed studies and analyzed the chemical make-up of indoor dust. The various studies looked at the dust in a variety of place, including homes, schools and gymnasiums across 14 states.


“What emerged was a rather disturbing picture of many different toxic chemicals from our products that are present in dust in the home and [are] contaminating the home,” said study lead Veena Singla in an interview with The Guardian.

Most disturbing was the finding that a particularly common chemical found in household dust was phthalates, which have been linked to developmental problems in infants, as well as fertility problems and cancer.

With the chemicals to be found in so many household products, it is perhaps not so surprising traces of them would be present in the dust at our feet. Phthalates are used in the manufacture of products including flooring, glue, building materials, shower curtains, upholstery and electronics.

And that’s a real problem, according to Singla, especially for homes with newborns and toddlers. Crawling around as they do, and exploring the world with every available means at their disposal, including putting things in their mouths, babies are prone to ingest a lot more dust than adults–and they are the most vulnerable to phthalate poisoning.

“We think our homes are a safe haven but unfortunately they are being polluted by toxic chemicals from all our products,” said Singla.

In addition to phthalates, the researchers found another 45 toxic chemicals to be commonly present in indoor dust. Ten of those were found in 90 percent or more of the dust samples that were tested, and included flame retardants, perfumes and phenols. These flame retardants are particularly troubling, as they are known to be carcinogenic, and capable of causing reproductive and nervous system problems.

As more and more children are developing asthma, allergies and auto-immune disorders, perhaps its time to take a closer look at just what’s in the dust surrounding us.

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