Is There Dangerous Dust in Your Home?

ByMarc Silberberg


There are many variations of dust particles both inside and outside the home that are of concern to babies, children, adults, pets, and pregnant women. The smaller the particles of dust the more likely they will be dangerous and get into people’s lungs easily. Larger particles are easier to remove during general vacuuming, but those smaller more dangerous particles are harder to remove, and a homeowner will not know that they are around.

Is the Dust in Your Home Safe?

Substances that are resistant to disintegration such as PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) have been used for many years in the creation of waterproof packaging, stain-resistant carpets and non- stick cookware and can stay in the environment for long periods of time affecting and reducing the air quality of the home.

There are many potentially harmful children’s products that contain PFAS such as stain resistant clothing, foam play mats and other water-resistant children’s products. Samples taken from infants and pregnant women show that these types of chemicals are resilient enough to affect the womb conceivably causing childhood cancers.

Scientists are attempting to find out exactly which home products bought by innocent consumers contain PFAS. It is hard to monitor all the different types of products that contain this hazard because there are different sources of the PFAS chemical family. Researchers are currently working on software that can predict the exact structures as new compounds develop for scientists to be able to classify different classes of PFAS’.

Home dust usually brings to mind those specks of dust that we see when the sun shines in our home and those cute, curious specks seem to come to life. What we may not realize is that those specks are not as harmless as they look, they could be the results of present or recent home renovations or damage that we may have concluded were over and done with. Yet, many types of dust residues such as plaster, concrete, and medium-density fibreboard (MDF) dust among others can be harmful to your family’s health if they are not removed from the home properly. It’s not only medically compromised individuals who can be negatively affected by harmful dust in the home, but healthy individuals can develop symptoms such as shortness of breath, asthma, and unexplained skin rashes.

Is Dust Harmful to Dogs?

Pets are a very important part of many Americans’ lives. When the home has too much dust, your dog will sneeze and cough to get rid of it. Since your dog spends his daily routine on the ground you may notice that he or she is scratching and licking his skin for two reasons due to dust. 1) Shaking his or her body feverishly might shake the dust off somewhat, but the licking will bring the harmful dust right back into his system. 2) An early sign of a skin allergy in your dog will be licking and scratching causing crusty bloody skin patches.

Crevices that are not obvious to the homeowner’s eye are places that the dog will seek out by himself. He may squeeze himself under dusty furniture or beds and that is where the dust will stay even if he shakes himself. He will need a good bath to remove the dust properly. So, if your house is infested with dust don’t forget about your dog, he or she will need to be cleaned and maybe medically treated if his breathing gets too heavy.

Is Plaster Dust Harmful to Your Health?

Plaster dust is composed of dissolved calcium that comes from new plastered surfaces which comes from several negative factors that lead to unhealthy dust developments such as:

1) The water to cement ratio is too high when the plaster is mixed.

2)  If calcium chloride is added to the plaster mix.

3) The use of abrasive tap water with a negative Saturation Index.

4) The addition of extra water while shoveling the plaster into the container.

5) Temperatures that are too hot or cold when plastering- this happens more often in new structures when the plastering is done either in the summer heat or winter cold and the HVAC system has not yet kicked in.

New plastering in old homes cannot be prevented as sometimes folks want to change the structure of their homes or else a bad leak in the ceiling from a faulty high vac tube causes the need for new plastering in a part of the damaged ceiling. Plaster dust contains a chemical called gypsum or calcium sulfate dihydrate which will cause discomfort for the folks who are working on it or living in the home that is being renovated. Some symptoms of exposure to plaster dust are a sore throat and a cough similar to cold symptoms as well as eye irritation.

For the construction workers, wearing a mask will usually solve the problem but what about the people who are living in the house at the time who cannot always leave the house especially if the weather is bad?  Now, when a construction worker is dealing with gypsum all day for days on end, it can have a detrimental long-term effect on their lungs, as opposed to a homeowner working on a simple one-day project. The inhalation of the gypsum from a simple one-day project may cause the homeowner to cough and or sneeze temporarily. However, this should not have long term health risks for the homeowner and his or her family. Substances such as PFAS are especially harmful in leftover dust on floors because children, toddlers and crawling infants spend so much of their day on the floor where they can ingest or inhale these harmful carcinogens.

Is Concrete Dust Dangerous to Your Health?

Cement and concrete contain silica which is one of the greatest killers of construction workers next to asbestos when silica is in dust form. Silica varies from 25 – 70% concentrations in mortar and concrete which is quite high and the higher the concentration the greater the risk of workers getting silica-related lung disease. There are actually legal requirements to protect workers from too much exposure to silica-based substances and actions in addition to masking must be done such as proper ventilation and the protection of the skin at all times.

What About MDF Exposure?

MDF or medium density fiberboard is usually considered safe when used in consumer products such cabinets, furniture, speakers, and wallboards but the danger lies when it is bonded improperly, it is being cut by construction workers or when a homeowner will buy MDF to build with. The binders that are used to make this material when inhaled can be so dangerous and irritating that they have been linked to certain types of cancers.

Resin that glues the fibers of MDF is the major danger of this product because the binder contains urea formaldehyde and some companies making fiberboard will use even stronger adhesives such as phenol formaldehyde. MDF is a relatively new product that has been around since the early 1980’s causing irritation to the skin, nose, eyes, and lungs. Medical conditions of the mucous membranes, asthma, rhinitis, and dermatitis have been associated with exposure to these formaldehyde chemicals. As of 2006, formaldehyde products have been classified as group 2A carcinogens for humans by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer which is a branch of WHO (World Health Organization).

It is vital for anyone using MDF products to use the utmost safeguards such as goggles, construction grade face masks and professional vacuums that can pick up the dust properly as soon as the fiberboard material is cut. Be aware, the dust from the fiberboard is extremely fine and can work its way into nooks and crannies, air conditioning ducts, and other far end places of the home. Thorough cleanup is the most important part of the home renovation project using MDF since the dust can cause major problems after the project has been completed.

Final Words

There is more to “simple” home dust that meets the eye. In fact, the dust we see that is coarse is not nearly as threatening as the fine particles that cannot be seen as readily. There are now several chemicals that have been identified as dangerous specifically in products that come in from outside the home both with personal products such as toys, non-stick cookware, and other home necessities. As far as construction products, surprisingly classics such concrete and plaster have to be handled with care as the residue dust that comes as by products from utilizing these compounds can have a hefty health related price.

Residue construction dust that is collected from windows, door frames and carpets have been tested by professionals from the Environmental Health Sciences and are being studied to find out how hazardous this dust is in the long run to infants, children, and their pregnant mothers. Potential hazards for lung disease such as asthma are only the bottom of the totem pole with childhood cancer causing substances such as formaldehydes used in home renovations.

Not only do construction workers need to use reliable masks, skin protectors and good ventilation but just as importantly, residents especially, children and compromised individuals must be kept safe from long lasting fine dust particles. It is imperative and sometimes a life and death situation to call in a professional air quality specialist to remove any hidden accumulation both in the home and in the HVAC system.

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