Is your house dust killing you and your family? Now, before you start panicking and reach for the vacuum cleaner, let me get this clear: This hasn’t got anything to do with your qualities as a housewife. It is a fact of life that things gather dust. Besides, we cannot live in a sterile environment and a little dirt doesn’t hurt anybody. In fact, health experts believe dirty can be sometimes healthy.
However, what the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is trying to say is that house dust as such is not that bad but toxic house dust is very bad.
Let us take a look as to where these dust all come from. Here are some of the components of house dust, according to EWG:
- pet dander
- fungal spores
- human hair and skin
- soil tracked in on your feet
- carpet fibers
- other tiny particles
- home-use chemicals
- chemicals shed by household appliances
Although most of these are potential allergens, the latter two is the baddest of the lot and that’s what this post is focusing on.
A study by the Silent Spring Institute has identified 66 compounds in the normal household dust which have endocrine-disrupting properties. The most common of these compounds are brominated flame retardants, pesticides and phthalates. In this post, let’s focus on the fire retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).
What are PBDEs?
PBDEs are present in a lot of home appliance including your TV, computers, and furniture. PBDEs are fire resistant and are added to flammable synthetic materials to make consumer products less combustible. However, these products “shed” PBDEs as PBDEs degrade with time, so that flame retardant particles settle with the house dust.
A 2004 EWG study revealed high levels of PBDEs in house dusts. The three main PBDEs used in manufacturing industries are the Penta, Octa, and Deca. Penta and Octa have supposedly been banned in the US since 2004 but Deca is still commonly used. Deca is predominant in the house dust sampled by EWG.
What are the health effects of toxic house dust?
- House dust as such toxic or non-toxic contains lots of potential allergens. I am allergic to dust and I know what a burden it is.
- PBDEs are endocrine-disruptive and may therefore affect the reproductive system.
- PBDEs are also neurotoxic and can cause deficits in motor skills, learning, memory and hearing, as well as changes in behavior.
How do we reduce the amount of toxic dust in our homes?
Aside from cleaning our house from top to bottom (which realistically we can’t do every day), the best way to reduce toxic dust is to reduce the amount of toxins coming in in the first place. Let’s take a look at EWG’s recommendations:
- Leave your shoes at the door and use a natural doormat. Shoes are a common way we bring outdoor pollutants inside.
- Inspect foam products made between 1970 and 2005 — they’re likely to contain PBDEs. Replace anything with a ripped cover or foam that is misshapen and breaking down. If you can’t replace these items, try to keep the covers intact and clean them more frequently. Some examples of household foam products are: stuffed/upholstered furniture, nursing pillows, padded high-chair seats, portable crib mattresses, baby changing pads, and chair cushions.
- Choose home electronics without PBDEs. There are manufacturers who no longer use them in some products — ask before you buy and support companies that have publicly committed to going PBDE-free, like: Acer, Apple, Eizo Nanao, LG Electronics, Lenovo, Matsushita, Microsoft, Nokia, Phillips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony-Ericsson, and Toshiba.
- Stick to products made with natural fibers that are naturally fire resistant and may contain fewer chemicals — like wood furniture, cotton, down and wool.
- Clean up quickly and thoroughly when you finish a home improvement project, since these can involve dust (from sanding or drilling) and toxic products (like lead, PCBs and fire retardants).
- Consider a high efficiency “HEPA-filter” air cleaner, which may also reduce contaminants that become dust in your house.
Photo credits: stock.xchng