We have all heard about poor diet and a lack of physical activity as major contributors to the growing rates of obesity in the United States, but researchers have also identified common environmental pollutants that could play a role.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, are synthetic or naturally occurring compounds that can interfere with or mimic the body’s hormones. EDCs, such as flame retardants, phthalates and bisphenol-A, are known for their potential effects on reproductive, neurological and immune functions.
But animal studies also suggest that early life exposure to some EDCs can cause weight gain later in life, and, as a result, have been called “obesogens.” Although some manufacturers have reduced the use of EDCs in products, many are still ubiquitous in consumer goods.
These endocrine disrupting chemicals wind up in indoor dust that can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that children consume 50 milligrams of house dust each day. Concerned about the potential effects EDCs in dust might have on children’s health, Heather Stapleton and colleagues wanted to see if the compounds in house dust might have an effect on fat cells.
The researchers collected samples of indoor dust from 11 homes in North Carolina and tested extracts from the samples in a mouse pre-adipocyte cell model, 3T3-L1 cells, often used to test compounds for potential effects on the accumulation of triglycerides, a type of fat. Extracts from seven of the 11 dust samples triggered the pre-adipocytes to develop into mature fat cells and accumulate triglycerides. Extracts from nine samples spurred the cells to divide, creating a larger pool of precursor fat cells. Only one dust sample had no effect.
These Chemicals Are Common Home Contaminants
Among the 44 individual common house dust contaminants tested in this model, pyraclostrobin (a pesticide), the flame-retardant TBPDP, and DBP, a commonly used plasticizer, had the strongest fat-producing effects. This suggests that the mixture of these chemicals in house dust is promoting the accumulation of triglycerides and fat cells, the researchers say.
Amounts of dust as low as 3 micrograms — well below the mass of dust that children are exposed to daily — caused measurable effects. Thus, the researchers also suggest that house dust is a likely exposure source of chemicals that may be able to disrupt metabolic health, particularly in children.
The study received funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Fred and Alice Stanback, the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and the Duke Cancer Institute.
Learn more about DBP and the products that contain it.
Read more about how firefighters are working to have toxic flame retardant materials banned, as they believe that higher cancer rates of firefighters is related to their constant exposure to these chemicals.
Learn more about DBP (dibutyl phthalate), a plasticizer.
Read about how EPA studies have found that “a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.”
So what can you do about your home?
Many of these contaminants are commonplace in products that we buy and keep inside our homes, so it is difficult to keep them out of our houses completely.
However, there are steps that you can take to improve the air quality of your home significantly.
Many different houseplants have been studied as air improvers, and some of them are extremely effective at reducing specific indoor pollutants.
A NASA study found that English ivy, gerbera daisies, pot mums, peace lily, bamboo palm, and mother-in-law’s tongue were found to be the best plants for treating air contaminated with benzene. The peace lily, gerbera daisy, and bamboo palm were very effective in treating trichloroethylene.
Additionally, NASA found that the bamboo palm, mother-in-law’s tongue, dracaena warneckei, peace lily, dracaena marginata, golden pathos, and green spider plant worked well for filtering formaldehyde. Learn more about which houseplants are most effective at cleaning indoor air.
You can learn more here about exactly which houseplants are best for dramatically improving indoor air quality.
Use a HEPA rated vacuum when you clean, so that when it sucks up pollutants, it keeps them inside the vacuum cleaner bag.
You should also use a HEPA rated air filter in your house so that any airborne particles will be filtered away.
When you dust, do not dry dust. Dry dusting just moves dust around. Be sure to use a wet dusting spray that is safe. You can even make a spray yourself.
Texas A&M University has a comprehensive guide to improving the quality of your indoor air and reducing your indoor exposure to pollutants.
WebMD covers 5 ways to improve your indoor air quality.
The EPA also has a guide to improving indoor air quality.