Spirituality & Health Magazine

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Dusting wood surface with sponge
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Dusting Is Dangerous to Your Health

What you need to know about the hazardous chemicals lurking in household dust.

“Housework, if you do it right, will kill you,” said humorist Erma Bombeck. She was joking, but a new reportfrom researchers at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University links dusting to danger in ways that are not a laughing matter.  

The study looked at data on dust samples from 14 states around the country, and catalogued the top 10 harmful chemicals found in 90 percent of the dust samples, including a known cancer-causing agent called TDCIPP. That’s a flame retardant commonly used to treat furniture, baby items and other household products. This study the first comprehensive analysis of consumer product chemicals found in household dust, according to the study’s lead author, Ami Zota, ScD, MS. Dr. Zota is an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute SPH whose research area is how environmental exposure interacts with social conditions to affect community health. The study’s findings, she wrote, “suggest that people, and especially children, are exposed on a daily basis to multiple chemicals in dust that are linked to serious health problems.”

The problem with these dust-born chemicals is that constant exposure adds up, say the researchers, especially for young children. Here are the toxic chemicals that most concern them:

  • Phthalates: Used in cosmetics, toys, vinyl flooring, and even fast food. These are thought to interfere with hormones in the body.
  • Phenols: Found in cleaning products.
  • Flame retardants, such as in furniture or drapes.
  • Fluorinated chemicals used in nonstick cookware, cell phones, pizza boxes, waterproof items, and stain proof products. They are linked to health issues with the immune system, digestive, developmental and endocrine system.

You probably are recoiling a bit. Who knew a pizza box and your cell phone could lead to a cloud of toxic dust? But there are some ways you can reduce your exposure to chemicals in household dust. First, keep dust levels low by using a strong vacuum with a HEPA filter. Wash your hands frequently. And avoid personal care and household products that contain potentially dangerous chemicals. Silent Spring Institute has a free smartphone app, Detox Me, which provides research-based tips on how to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals.

“Consumers have the power to make healthier choices and protect themselves from harmful chemicals in everyday products,” wrote Robin Dodson, an environmental exposure scientist at Silent Spring Institute. “These things can make a real difference not only in their health but also in shifting the market toward safer products.”

You don’t have to pull an Erma Bombeck and give up dusting all together, but you might want to think twice about what’s in your house, and how you approach cleaning it.

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