Is Household Dust a Problem?

We are often asked to evaluate the indoor air quality of a workplace, and from time to time, we may even evaluate the indoor air of a home or apartment.  Most of our testing has been centered around mold. We sometimes find the need to characterize the general dust which is primarily composed of skin cells, clothing fibers, pollen, and other inert particles.  Even after cleaning, these particles can still be found if for no other reason, we are living in this environment and we tend to be one of the major sources of bringing these materials into the home.

Some recent research seems to indicate that if one looks at the chemistry of this dust, we can also find potential carcinogens like PCBs that were likely from old electrical equipment and household finishes.  Other studies have also found flame-retardant compounds and pesticides.  Why pesticides inside a home?  Well, we do a good job tracking these compounds into the home on our shoes or from our pets after a walk.  Although these substances are receiving more and more attention of late, I am not aware of any study stating that the extent of exposure from compounds found in common household dust being elevated to potentially causing chronic ill health.  That is not to say that some dust, like lead dust, cannot be toxic in a sufficient concentration.  What is clear however, is that the “dose makes the poison” and although there are studies that report findings of these substances, they are at concentrations that are extremely low.