Baby playing with blocks on a wood floor

What Parents Need to Know About Indoor Dust

September 28, 2016

If your house was being checked out as a possible hazardous waste site, what do you think investigators would find? Hint: prepare to be shocked.

Data shows that it is most likely they would find at least these top 10 toxic chemicals inside your home. And, possibly, up to 45 different toxic chemicals. And especially concerning: toxic flame retardants and phthalates at levels high enough to raise a “hazardous waste site” red flag of concern.

Quite a few studies over the years have shown that household dust is more than just dirt. Lead from old paint, pesticides tracked in from outdoors, cleaning supplies sprayed in the home: all these accumulate in dust that we inhale or that gets on hands and then into mouths. For years, our coalition partners have given the same advice to parents in order to protect kids: dust regularly with a wet mop, avoid dust-collecting furnishing, and wash hands before eating.

But now, for the first time, we have all the studies in one place. And it’s not just a handful of toxic chemicals invading our homes: it’s 45 different substances. And it’s not just one small researcher and a dozen households: it’s a robust study conducted by scientists from George Washington University, the Silent Spring Institute, NRDC, Harvard University, and the University of California–San Francisco.

Each of these chemicals are considered toxic because of their link to cancer, hormone disruption, and/or toxicity to the reproductive and developmental systems. They start out in everything from our toys to our furnishings to the very material making up the walls of our homes. And these hazardous chemicals don’t stay in the dust: they end up in our bodies—including the developing bodies of our children at the time when they are most vulnerable to harm.

And here’s the kicker: NRDC staff scientist Veena Singla wanted to find out just how this kind of contamination compares to, say, an industrial site being considered for clean-up. She compared the levels of flame retardants and phthalates found in homes to the “screening levels” that would trigger concern if found in the soil at a clean-up site. And yes: by that standard, there is reason for concern.

It’s great to see major outlets like TIME, The Washington Post, CNN, CBS News, and The Guardian (to name a few) raising attention to this issue. It’s great to have practical tips about how to reduce exposure in articles like Veena’s full blog post and this informative fact sheet. You could even use the Silent Spring Detox Me app to take a whole range of protective measures, or HBBF’s Safe Product Finder to avoid toxics from coming into your home.

But come on: a hazardous waste site in our homes? Isn’t it time we showed a little bit of outrage?

Yes. Together we can make an impact and here’s one way:

Please click here to take action now by asking Costco to take toxic chemicals off their store shelves. Unlike Walmart and Target, Costco has not announced a comprehensive policy to restrict harmful chemicals in the products it carries. For example, toxic flame retardants like the ones found in the study can be found in couches and other furniture sold at Costco. Now is the time to urge Costco to step up to protect kids and families from toxic threats.

Your child, and every child, deserves a bright future.

Sarah Doll
Bright Choices Program Director
Healthy Babies Bright Futures