Household Dust May Be Scarier Than You Thought
We have more evidence that concentrations of the chemical bromine are higher indoors and that it is present in dust.
I recently struck up a conversation with a spider today while dusting at home. He seems nice. He’s a web designer.
Okay, I will keep my day job. Today, I want to share with you a bit about household dust; more specifically, we’ll look at a new study that illustrates how chemicals such as flame retardants land in unexpected places.
Brominated flame retardants: The good and the bad
Since the 1970s, chemicals known as brominated flame retardants have been added to numerous household products. Electronics, mattresses, upholstery, carpets, textiles, plastics, wire insulation, automobiles, and more. Why? They can improve fire safety. The bad? One form— polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs — is harmful to human hormonal systems.
PBDEs have been restricted in Canada since 2008 and phased out in 2004 in the United States. Still, there remain concerns that certain forms of the chemical are persistent and bioaccumulative. PBDEs may cause neurobehavioral effects, in addition to ecotoxicity in birds, mammals, fish, and invertebrates.
How do PBDEs get out of products?
Because they are not chemically bound to products, PBDEs can leach out. We can detect relatives of the chemical in humans and in the environment, in spite of the fact that they are no longer added to products. In fact, some studies hint that the levels are on the rise. Imported articles (to which chemicals have been added) may play a role, too.
Researchers from the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan and Memorial University (Canada) used synchrotron X-ray techniques to see if they could detect bromine in household dust. Are we getting exposed to this chemical in our homes? Touching it or inhaling it?
The investigators tested twenty dust samples collected from homes in rural Newfoundland. They used a tool known as VESPERS, a hard X-ray microprobe capable of providing a high level of complementary structural and analytical information. Their findings are provocative:
Researchers showed bromine in all the dust samples, including species characteristics of brominated flame retardants.
A study author recognizes the tradeoff: The increased safety from fire versus another hazard type. But what can we do about bromine-containing dust? I don’t know. Perhaps more frequent vacuuming. And, if we are to use flame retardants, we need alternatives that are safer than brominated compounds.
Thank you for joining me.