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[Reblog]Monday: What’s Lurking Beneath Your Sofa in Your (Otherwise) Healthy Home | Drexel School of Public Health

The house dust mite, its feces and chitin are ...

The house dust mite, its feces and chitin are common allergens around the home (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Monday: What’s Lurking Beneath Your Sofa in Your (Otherwise) Healthy Home | Drexel School of Public Health.

 

By Anneclaire De Roos, MPH, PhD, Associate Professor

When I think about this National Public Health Week’s topic – ‘Healthy Homes’ – what immediately comes to mind are themes like injury, fire safety, lead, radon, mold, and secondhand smoke. Most people’s thoughts about healthy homes probably don’t include dust.  How harmful can dust bunnies be?  Actually, we’ve long known that people with asthma and allergies are sensitive to dust mites.  And now there is ever-increasing documentation of a different type of health hazard from house dust – exposure to a diverse mix of pollutants including metals, pesticides, dioxins, flame retardants such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and phthalates.

These chemicals adhere to dust particles and blow into your household after being stirred up by traffic, are released from your sofa or appliances as they degrade over time, are deposited from disintegrating home building materials, and are introduced from cigarette smoking or pesticide applications indoors. Some of the pollutants are known to cause adverse health effects, such as lead and dioxins.  Others, including PBDE and phthalates, are not as well understood, although there is emerging evidence that these chemicals cause hormonal changes and may be particularly damaging when exposure happens during pregnancy or childhood.

The trouble arises because people inadvertently swallow small amounts of dust during their normal daily activities like eating, drinking, and breathing.  For example, it’s well known that exposure to organochlorines, such as dioxins, comes from the diet – from fatty foods including fish, meat, and dairy.  However, we are now learning that a major source of our exposure also comes from ingestion of dust, in amounts that rival dietary exposures.  This is an especially important pathway of exposure for small children, who crawl on the floor and explore their environment using hand-to-mouth behavior.  House cats also ingest very high amounts of house dust through self-grooming.  In fact, studies in the US and Europe have found that house cats had 50 times higher blood levels of PBDEs than people.

Aside from not breathing or swallowing, or fruitlessly trying to change the behaviors of your toddler or pet, what can be done to reduce exposure to pollutants from household dust?  The answers are somewhat obvious, but do require vigilance.

1) Avoid introduction of pollutants inside the home where possible, by banning smoking in the home and seeking alternatives to pesticide applications

2) Wipe your feet on a high-quality doormat before entering the home

3) Eliminate wall-to-wall carpeting and shag rugs, which trap dust

4) Vacuum frequently, ideally using a high-powered vacuum cleaner with a dirt finder

5) Wet-mop non-carpeted floor surfaces on a regular basis

6) Wipe down toys and other items your toddler contacts, using a wet cloth

In my review of the literature, I even saw a recommendation to wipe down your cat with a wet cloth on a daily basis (good luck with that!).  Nevertheless, it makes good health sense to follow these recommendations, particularly during pregnancy or with toddlers in the home.  At the very least, you will have a cleaner home to show for it.

 

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May 2, 2013 Posted by | Consumer Health, environmental health | , , , | Leave a comment

   

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