Analysis of Household Dust from 35 Countries Sheds Light on What Contaminants We Are Exposed To

A new study by researchers from around the world has thrown more light on contaminants in household dust and the factors that might influence levels of human exposure to them globally.

Home Dust

Home Dust

The research was the first of its kind to collect household dust across continents to test for trace metals that have a potential for toxicity. Researchers gathered dust samples from households in 35 countries for their analysis.

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Findings show that regardless of where people live they are exposed to some contaminants in the dust around them. The study reveals more about the sources and risks relating to trace metal exposure.

Trace metals can pose a serious threat to human health and wellness. Exposure to them is believed to have disturbing neurocognitive effects in individuals, regardless of their age.

Diverse contaminants and health risks

For this study, researchers had people living in 35 countries vacuum their homes and send the dust to designated universities. They then proceeded to test the samples in the different institutions for trace metals that are potentially toxic.

Findings showed that household dust exposed people in different countries to diverse contaminants. Environmental factors as well as past contaminations determined toxic exposure and health risks.

House dust in Australia revealed worrying arsenic and lead levels. Researchers estimated that one in every six homes in the country showed health risk higher than that considered tolerable by US Environmental Protection Agency standards.

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High arsenic concentrations were also observed in neighboring New Zealand – this was not entirely surprising. Health risk for children younger than two years was greater in one in three homes than the acceptable level fixed by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

High lead levels in household dust can be linked to local mining and smelting activities. Peeling paint and past leaded petrol emissions are among common causes of contamination in inner-city areas.

These trace metals could cause health issues. Arsenic, for instance, can cause respiratory and immunity problems as well as an increased cancer risk. Lead poses a threat to the healthy development of the brain and nervous systems in children, leading to behavioral and developmental issues.

House dust from New Caledonia showed high concentrations of nickel, chromium, and manganese. These were linked to local soil, rock, and nickel smelting activities. Researchers posited that the contaminants may explain higher cases of lung and thyroid cancers there.

In Africa, household dust from Ghana showed high lead concentrations. Possible sources include electronic recycling operations, previous leaded petrol emissions, soil, paint, and degrading building materials.

Many homes in the US also exceeded acceptable thresholds for chromium-related risks.

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Determinants of toxic metal exposure

Researchers sought to find out the factors that determine how risky household dust is. They collected data on building materials, home features, pets, hobbies, and habits from different countries to this end.

Findings showed that the age of a house, peeling paint, smoking, and having a garden were major determinants of house dust toxicity.

Higher levels of different metals, excluding chromium, were observed in older homes. Potentially harmful remnants from peeling paints, pesticides, industrial and traffic pollutants, and other chemicals are likely to be present in dust from such homes.

A remarkable finding in this research was that homes having garden access contained higher lead and arsenic concentrations in their dust.

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Contaminants in the soil can find their way into the house when blown in or walked in by people or pets. They can end up being inhaled or ingested, thereby causing health problems.

It is important to vacuum, dust, or mop the home regularly to reduce risk. Home paint should be kept in a good condition and indoor smoking should be avoided. Also, consider covering exposed soil with grass or mulch.

Care needs to be exercised with hobbies that involve lead as well. Examples include metalwork, fishing, and shooting.

References

International Analysis of Sources and Human Health Risk Associated with Trace Metal Contaminants in Residential Indoor Dust

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