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Sunday, April 14, 2024

UC Davis researchers receive funding from the Environmental Protection Agency to study semivolatile chemicals in household dust

Children are more exposed to dust than adults, putting them at greater risk for connected health concerns with chemicals on dust particles


By BRANDON NGUYEN –– science@theaggie.org


UC Davis researchers recently received a $1.35 million grant to support research on chemicals and toxins in dust often absorbed and ingested by young children. Household dust is often overlooked by parents as these barely visible particles yield nothing but a sneeze at first glance. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded over $9 million to seven different institutions — UC Davis being one of them — to more closely monitor and study potential chemical hazards in everyday fine particles.

According to the EPA, consumption of dust often leads to exposure to chemicals such as lead, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (ACBs) and asbestos. These chemicals can be connected to health concerns. Wayne Cascio, the acting principal deputy assistant administrator for science in the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, explained the importance of researching household particles like dust for the safety of children.

“It is our duty to protect the health of those most vulnerable among us, including our children,” Cascio said. “The researchers receiving these awards will improve our understanding of how children are exposed to chemicals, which will inform future actions to reduce these exposures and better protect their health.”

Deborah Bennett, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences and leader of the study, described the kind of chemicals that come from household components and settle into dust.

“So there’s a lot of semivolatile compounds, which have low vapor pressure, used in consumer products in our homes,” Bennett said. “And these chemicals come out of the various consumer products and tend to partition into the dust so things like flame retardants that might be in our furniture, plasticizers that might be in various plastic things in our home, such as vinyl flooring or shower curtains.”

Having low vapor pressure means the chemicals do not want to be in the air and would rather attach to some solid material, like dust particles. Because dust particles tend to settle on the ground and surfaces, Bennett underscored how this can be a problem for young children.

“Kids overall tend to be exposed to more pollutants in their environment than adults do, and that’s in part because kids spend a lot more time contacting surfaces such as the floor,” Bennet said. “They also put a lot more things in their mouths, so if we want to properly protect kids and properly determine how much exposure they have, we have to have a better understanding of how much exposure kids have to dust in their home environment.”

Rebecca Moran, the project manager for the study and staff research associate at Bennett’s lab, described how they will look for chemical tracers of dust in children around Davis as part of their sample.

“So the method part of the study is going to use a lot of techniques that we already use for exposure assessment, what we call a duplicate diet,” Moran said. “For a 24-hour period, the parent is going to set aside the exact amount of food that their child eats and put it in a jar and more and then what they drink, so we get an exact sample of what they’ve had to eat and drink in that 24-hour period, and a lab here on campus will analyze that for whole suite of 40 chemicals.”

The duplicate diet ensures that chemicals the researchers identify as potential dust tracers will not be the same as the ones in the food ingested by the child. In addition, Bennett’s team will collect dust samples within the child’s house as well as a wipe from the forearm to see what particles were absorbed on the child’s skin from the environment.

Both Bennett and Moran echoed sentiments to highlight a greater awareness for manufacturers to change the levels of chemicals in household consumer products.

“We’re not interested in having people change how they maintain their households,” Bennett said. “Ultimately what we want to see happen would be that if there’s chemicals that are in consumer products that are too high in concentration for the amount of exposure that people have than we would like, we would want the manufacturers of those products to either voluntarily remove those chemicals from their products for there to be regulations around limiting the amount of chemicals in products.”

While individuals can lower the risk of health concerns by vacuuming more often and limiting the amount of synthetic products brought into their homes, Bennett’s team hopes that the study’s findings will guide policy-making that protects children from semivolatile chemicals in household dust particles.


Written by: Brandon Nguyen — science@theaggie.org


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