You might not think of the average living room as being a particularly dangerous place. On the contrary, it is usually the place that we retreat to at the end of a hard day, where we can finally relax and feel perfectly safe. This is all the more reason why the results of a recent study undertaken at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University will come as a nasty shock to most people.
The researchers, led by Ami Zota, analyzed 26 peer-reviewed papers and one unpublished dataset, relating to harmful chemicals found in household dust. The study covered 14 different U.S. States. They found that every day, people are exposed to a wide range of dangerous chemicals which gather in dust around the house. These chemicals are often released into the air from various consumer products that we bring into our homes. Perhaps most worryingly of all, babies and small children are the most exposed to these chemicals as they spend a lot of time on the floor playing in and around accumulated dust.
The team found that 90% of all the dust samples they analyzed contained a harmful chemical called TDCIPP. This chemical has flame-retardant properties and so is often found in household items including furniture and baby products. It’s therefore alarming to know that there have been claims that it can cause cancer. Other potentially harmful chemicals that were found in worryingly high quantities included phthalates, which are found in most plastics, and are widely believed to interfere with the bodies’ hormones and even cause problems as severe as breathing difficulties. It has even been linked by some to the lowering of IQs.
The researchers warned that the large number of different chemicals found may act together to increase the risk of causing harm. Even small amounts of these chemicals, combined together in dust could lead to future health problems, especially in children.
Some governments are beginning to recognize the problem. For example, throughout much of the United States, Canada and the European Union companies are being persuaded to use alternatives to phthalates in plastic products. However, any change is gradual, and it seems that for the foreseeable future most household dust will continue to contain dangerously high quantities of harmful chemicals.
In the meantime, there are certain ways that you can reduce your exposure to dangerous chemicals in your home. It is important that you frequently use a vacuum cleaner in your home, ideally a strong one which has a HEPA filter. It is especially important that you vacuum areas of your home where young children are likely to play. Avoid overusing products such as air-fresheners which can contain high quantities of harmful chemicals, open your windows as much as possible and try to wash your hands throughout the day.
Keeping houseplants indoors can help neutralise the harmful effects of airborne chemicals.