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Dust surrounds us constantly, invisible particles floating in the air before settling in fuzzy gray clumps. But instead of just being a harmless byproduct of life that gets swept up when you Swiffer your room, Yale researcher Krystal Pollitt, associate professor of epidemiology and chemical and environmental engineering, recently published a review revealing that there may be more dangerous chemicals settled on those hard-to-reach surfaces.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are chemicals used in non-stick pans, carpets, cosmetics, and more than nine thousand other products containing the element fluorine. These chemicals can enter the body by inhaling or ingesting PFAS-containing substances such as dust. Once in our bodies, PFAS can cause behavioral issues in children, cancer, and obesity, among other diseases.
“Exposure to PFAS has most commonly been assessed in blood, but we are looking at environmental matrices to gauge exposure to a broader range of PFAS,” Pollitt said. “Settled dust can be incredibly informative at giving a signature of the environmental chemicals around us.”
Pollitt estimates that adults ingest about three milligrams of dust per day while children ingest forty-one milligrams of dust per day since they spend more time near the ground and on carpets where dust can accumulate. Pollitt’s group surveyed consumer products, food packaging, and building materials that may all contribute to PFAS in settled dust. Even though many materials around us contain PFAS, there are still steps we can take to limit our inhalation or ingestion of these compounds.
“There are manufacturers that are addressing this issue by not using these fluorinated substances,” Pollitt said. In addition, the Pollitt laboratory is developing wearable wristbands that can be used to detect personal exposure to PFAS as a way of further investigating the long-term health effects of PFAS exposure.