Editor’s Note: If you missed Robin’s morning post on ways to eat local this spring, you can read it HERE. Now, here’s Sharon Daly from ecoLife Solutions with the dish on dust. Very informative info that may just have you breaking out the mop and dust clothes today! Enjoy.
Many of us wait until spring to extricate the dust bunnies colonizing under beds and couches, behind fridges, in closet corners and around home electronics. We put off general dusting, vacuuming and mopping duties until we can’t stand the sight of that dust and dirt – and in the case of our house, cat hair and dander - collecting on floors and furniture. I once prided myself on being able to look at “the dust” without running for a mop and a cloth. But, this is no longer the case. I’m back to dusting and sweeping on a regular basis.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a bit of dirt. Dust is a fact of life and health experts believe that plain old dirt can even be healthy in a society with an obsession for “clean and gleam” – as an immune system builder. But, common household dust is not so plain anymore. It’s not only an allergenic but it increases our risk of long-term exposure to toxic chemicals.
Dust is an irritant on its own. It’s also an eager host for lots of gross stuff like human hair and skin, fungal spores, dust mites, pet dander and fur, and any other particles and dirt that blow in or get tracked in from the outside. For those people with allergies, biological irritants like dust mites, pollen and pet dander can make every day life miserable.
A few years ago, David Suzuki famously reported about the health dangers lurking in the dirty, dusty fibres and padding of our carpets. It prompted me to stay away from wall-to-wall carpeting FOREVER.
What most people don’t know is that household products like furniture, mattresses, electronics, plastics and synthetic fabrics shed invisible chemicals over time and settle in household dust.
Many studies confirm the presence of toxic chemicals in common household dust, the most notable being:
- PBDEs - flame retardants applied to textiles or incorporated in foam and plastics for furniture and home electronics,
- Alkylphenols - compounds found in laundry detergents, all purpose cleaning products, and paint to name a few,
- PCFs - chemicals used to make non-stick cookware and stain repellent fabric,
- Phthalates - added to vinyl products to make them pliable such as shower curtains, toys and furniture,
- Pesticides - applied in and around homes on lawns/gardens and controlling insect infestations,
- Metals lead - mercury and cadmium (for example, from treated wood products and old lead paint), and
- Personal care product additives and chemicals.
These toxic chemicals have the potential to make you and your family members sick. They are linked to cancer, developmental and neurological disorders, respiratory issues and hormone disruption.
Of most concern are children who are not only more vulnerable to chemical exposures, but tend to play close to the floor, or in dusty hideaways such as closets and under furniture. They can ingest and inhale dust particles more readily and frequently then adults. The US Environmental Protection Agency suggests that children ages one to four consume about 100 mg of dust a day and 400 mg for highly exposed children. You can see how household dust can become a risk.
What is interesting to note is that as many as 100,000 synthetic chemicals are in use today. The vast majority of these chemicals have never been completely tested on humans, wildlife or the environment to determine whether they are safe or not.
According to the US Environmental Working Group, many experts refer to house dust as an “indoor-pollution archive” or a “long-term accumulative sample” of contaminants. In fact, Health Canada is nearing completion of a four-year House Dust Study to measure the background levels of chemicals in house dust across the country and determine how health risks should be addressed. Results should be released later this year.
What can you do? We realistically can’t dust every day, so there is no point in panicking and developing an anxiety disorder.
There are a couple of realistic and practical strategies for staying on top of potential toxic dust. They are to capture and remove dust, and reduce the amount of toxins entering your home.
Capture and Remove:
- Clean floors and surfaces on a regular basis.
– Clean non-carpeted floors with wet mops, without toxic household cleaners.
- Use a regular damp cloth or microfiber cloth (for example, E-Cloth) to wipe down furniture.
- Vacuum often and use a vacuum with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter and debris collection system. Don’t forget to vacuum the stuffed furniture, including under the cushions.
- Dust places where children hang out or crawl (for example, under tables and in closets).
- Make sure you dust electronic equipment regularly, especially computers – electronics are a common source of fire retardants in dust.
- Establish a no-shoe policy in your house. Shoes are a common way to bring in outdoor pollutants like pesticides, oil residues, pollen and antifreeze.
- Use HEPA filters on your furnace and air conditioning units and clean filters regularly during the heating and cooling seasons.
- Buy a HEPA air filter system (11+) with a high MERV value if you have many allergies or chemical sensitivities.
- Cover tears in upholstery that expose polyurethane foam, particularly if foam is deteriorating and pre-2005.
- Cover mattresses with a tightly woven cotton allergen barrier to reduce dust that could carry PBDE and provide protection from dust mites.
- Seal off work areas for home improvement projects and clean up thoroughly after each working session (make sure you wear a barrier mask).
Reduce the Amount of Chemical Toxins Entering Your Home:
- Choose home electronics without PBDEs – there are manufacturers who no longer have these fire retardants in their products. Make sure you ask before you buy.
- Stick to products made with natural fibres and fibres that are naturally fire resistant and contain fewer chemicals, such as down, wool, polyester, cotton, hemp or bamboo.
- Use natural homemade or green cleaning products – harsh chemicals in cleaning products can contaminate your home defeating the purpose of all that scrubbing, soaking, washing and dusting.
- Use natural personal care products, or at least products with a short ingredient list.
- Buy formaldehyde-free wood or fibreboard products.
- Opt for wood, tile or natural linoleum flooring with scattered rugs. If you have to have a wall-to-wall carpet, invest in a natural fibre carpet.
- Minimize the use of vinyl and plastic within your home especially PVC (#3) and Styrofoam (#6).
- Use low VOC (or preferably zero VOC) products such as paint, finishes, sealants, waxes, strippers and glues.
The most important thing is to RELAX. Dust regularly. Work towards purchasing non-toxic or low toxicity products over time and according to your budget. Everyone in your household will benefit from the creation of a non-toxic home environment.