Healthier furnishings could reduce toxic dust indoors

Dust in buildings with older furniture is more likely to contain traces of toxic compounds called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) than dust in buildings with newer furniture, according to a study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Researchers led by Anna Young, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Environmental Health, studied 47 office suites, classrooms, and common rooms at a university. They looked at three categories of rooms—those in older buildings with conventional furniture; those with at least some furniture made with healthier materials; and those in more recently renovated buildings with furniture free from harmful chemicals. In each room, they measured levels of PFASs—chemicals that are widely used to make products stain and water resistant—as well as levels of common flame retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and organophosphate esters (OPEs).

Each of these categories of chemicals have been linked with negative health impacts, including some cancers, low birthweight, thyroid disease, decreased sperm quality, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced hypertension, asthma, and ulcerative colitis, according to an October 20, 2020 article in Environmental Health News.

The researchers found that dust in rooms furnished with items without PFASs or flame retardants, in more recently renovated buildings, had 78% lower levels of PFASs, 65% lower levels of OPEs, and 45% lower levels of PBDEs than rooms in older buildings with older furniture.

“This suggests that replacing harmful materials with these healthier materials is an inexpensive way to reduce exposures to toxic chemicals indoors, which is where we spend most of our time,” Young told Environmental Health News.

Read the Environmental Health News article: Dust from your old furniture likely contains harmful chemicals—but there’s a solution

Learn more

Health risks of widely used chemicals may be underestimated (Harvard Chan School news)

Exposure to common flame retardant chemicals may increase thyroid problems in women (Harvard Chan School release)

36 expert tips for a healthier home (Harvard Chan School feature)