Skip to Main Content

Study Identifies Potentially Harmful Substances in Household Dust

Yale Public Health Magazine, Focus: Spring 2022
by Matt Kristoffersen


An investigation led by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health has identified potential health hazards in settled dust.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been used for decades to create stain-resistant carpeting, waterproof packaging, nonstick cookware and other consumer products. But while the strong carbon and fluorine bonds found in PFAS compounds have proven useful in these applications, their resistance to degradation also means they can linger in the environment long afterward, contaminating drinking water and hampering air quality.

These so-called forever chemicals are dangerous at certain concentrations, studies have shown. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to delayed brain development in children, thyroid cancers, and liver and kidney damage. And, according to some researchers, PFAS compounds can accumulate in settled dust in indoor spaces, where toddlers face an even greater risk of inhaling or ingesting them.

The YSPH study, published in Current Environmental Health Reports, increases researchers’ understanding of the specific PFAS compounds often found in dust and where they may come from, as well as their potential implications for human health.

“Dust collected from on the top of door frames or windows or from carpets can be used to capture a person’s exposure to pollutants in the air,” said Krystal Pollitt, Ph.D., P.Eng., an assistant professor of epidemiology (Environmental Health Sciences) at YSPH and senior author of the study. “Settled dust is especially relevant for infants and children that spend extended periods on the ground where they may inhale or ingest the dust.”

For the paper, Pollitt’s team compiled a list of some of the sources potentially contributing to the presence of PFAS in settled dust, as identified by other scientists. The list is long: rugs and carpets, food packaging, cosmetics, paper products, clothing, insecticides and more.

“So many children’s products, like foam play mats or clothing that is stain- or water-resistant, likely contain PFAS,” Pollitt said. Cookware, too. “PFAS are applied to many household items to achieve the nonstick surface,” she said.

There are steps individuals can take to try to avoid potentially hazardous compounds in dust, Pollitt said, including frequent cleaning and having greater awareness of the chemicals that are in household products.

“It is important to prevent exposure from the onset,” she said. “There are a growing number of companies that are committed to not using PFAS in their products.”

Previous Article
Major Funding Award Supports Yale Efforts to Address Maternal Health Inequities
Next Article
NIH Grant Supports Suicide Interventions For Pregnant And Postpartum Women