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Study Finds Harmful Compounds in Household Dust

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A new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found “shocking” levels of harmful chemicals in common household dust collected across the United States.

Products we use never really stay put: Particles from our hairspray and oven cleaner drift through the air and accumulate in the specks of dust hiding under the bed and on the windowsills. When we inhale, we take some of that dust, and thus some of those chemicals, into our body. Consequently, determining just how common those chemicals are is a pretty important question. Yet until now, most studies on the subject have looked at small samples or considered only a handful of chemicals.

So a team of public health researchers from five institutions (George Washington University, the Silent Spring Institute, the National Resource Defense Council, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the University of California, San Francisco) decided to take a look at the bigger picture. They compared the results of 27 studies on household dust collected in 14 U.S. states.

The news was not good. The team’s meta-analysis of vacuumed-up dust revealed 45 different potentially harmful chemicals, all of which came from consumer products like vinyl flooring, toiletries, cleaning products, building materials, and furniture. Ten of the chemicals, including a carcinogenic flame retardant, were present in 90 percent of all samples.

Some classes of chemicals were more prevalent than others. Compounds called phthalates, which are commonly added to perfume, lotion, nail polish, shower curtains, plastic wrap, and vinyl siding, were found in significantly higher concentrations than any other chemicals. The phthalates DEP, DEHP, DNBP, and DIBP are all known health hazards and can interfere with the body’s hormones and respiratory system.

“The number and levels of toxic and untested chemicals that are likely in every one of our living rooms was shocking to me,” co-author Veena Singla, a staff scientist at the National Resource Defense Council, said in a press statement. "Harmful chemicals used in everyday products and building materials result in widespread contamination of our homes.”

Still, let's not freak out. While the chemicals were certainly varied and present, nobody is saying that your dust bunnies are trying to kill you. We are not in imminent danger of dropping dead from dust. And we’re not completely helpless. There are a number of things you can do to reduce your exposure. For starters, keep your house as dust-free as possible, and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Wash your hands. And we know it’s not easy, but try to steer clear of products containing phthalates [PDF].

"Consumers have the power to make healthier choices and protect themselves from harmful chemicals in everyday products," Robin Dodson, co-author and an environmental exposure scientist at the Silent Spring Institute, said in the statement. "These things can make a real difference not only in their health but also in shifting the market toward safer products."

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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Live Smarter
Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants
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In the wake of Flint, Michigan's water crisis, you may have begun to wonder: Is my tap water safe? How would I know? To put your mind at ease—or just to satisfy your scientific curiosity—you can find out exactly what's in your municipal water pretty easily, as Popular Science reports. Depending on where you live, it might even be free.

A new water quality test called Tap Score, launched on Kickstarter in June 2017, helps you test for the most common household water contaminants for $120 per kit. You just need to take a few samples, mail them to the lab, and you'll get the results back in 10 days, telling you about lead levels, copper and cadmium content, arsenic, and other common hazardous materials that can make their way into water via pipes or wells. If you're mostly worried about lead, you can get a $40 test that only tells you about the lead and copper content of your water.

In New York State, a free lead-testing program will send you a test kit on request that allows you to send off samples of your water to a state-certified lab for processing, no purchase required. A few weeks later, you'll get a letter with the results, telling you what kind of lead levels were found in your water. This option is great if you live in New York, but if your state doesn't offer free testing (or only offers it to specific locations, like schools), there are other budget-friendly ways to test, too.

While mailing samples of your water off to a certified lab is the most accurate way to test your water, you can do it entirely at home with inexpensive strip tests that will only set you back $10 to $15. These tests aren't as sensitive as lab versions, and they don't test for as many contaminants, but they can tell you roughly whether you should be concerned about high levels of toxic metals like lead. The strip tests will only give you positive or negative readings, though, whereas the EPA and other official agencies test for the concentration of contaminants (the parts-per-billion) to determine the safety of a water source. If you're truly concerned with what's in your water, you should probably stick to sending your samples off to a professional, since you'll get a more detailed report of the results from a lab than from a colored strip.

In the future, there will likely be an even quicker way to test for lead and other metals—one that hooks up to your smartphone. Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Colorado, won the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge by inventing Tethys, a faster lead-testing device than what's currently on the market. With Tethys, instead of waiting for a lab, you can get results instantly. It's not commercially available yet, though, so for now, we'll have to stick with mail-away options.

[h/t Popular Science]

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