Dust is More Than Just Dirt

If you need another reason to bust out the vacuum cleaner, this might be it: The dust in your house is likely to harbor harmful chemicals that, if present at high enough levels, may damage your health.

Products we use every day—things like electrical appliances, hair shampoo and food packaging—contain chemicals that end up in the air we breathe. High exposure to chemicals like phenols and phthalates has been linked to asthma, cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive problems and developmental delays in children, among other complications. The chemicals eventually settle as dust on floors and other surfaces in our homes. Given that Americans spend more than90 percent of their time indoors, there’s a decent chance we may inhale these chemicals, absorb them through skin, or accidentally eat them (Mom was right to insist on hand washing before mealtimes).

“Most people think of dust as dirt, but it’s more than that,” says Ami Zota from George Washington University. She’s the lead author of a new study on indoor dust, published September 14 in Environmental Science & Technology. “These chemicals pose potential threats, especially to children’s health.”

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