What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and everything nice…THAT’S what little girls are made of. Now little boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tail…that’s way closer to what dust is made of.
When you get right down to it, dust is pretty complicated. It also may be affecting your health.
Paloma Beamer of the University of Arizona spends a lot of her time thinking about dust — what it's made of and where it comes from.
Beamer says there are really only two places dust can come from: outdoors and indoors.
We are an important part of the process of getting the outdoor stuff indoors. We bring it with us when we enter a house — through "soil particles that come in on your shoes," says Beamer, or tiny particles suspended in the air when we open the door and walk in.
Then there's the indoor component of dust. "Like pieces of your carpet fiber or your furniture, your bedding, or anything like that that starts decaying," she says.
Then there are organic contributors. "Skin flakes and the dander off your pets, and other insects or bugs that might be in the home."
Now, as anyone who's looked under a sofa knows, there's dense dust and there's fluffy dust. Fluffy stuff is like the hairs from our dogs that seem to comprise 50% of what I empty out of our vacuum cleaner. Dense stuff is pollen and dirt that gets tangled up with the fluffy stuff and make those “dust bunnies” we love to clean up.
Ok so theres lots of dust in my home that gets in when we enter or exit…whats the big deal?
Andrea Ferro of Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., is also a dust expert. She says some of the particles are small enough that they can float in the air, and we can get them into our lungs. Others are larger and tend to sink to the ground. Some are simple, made of only a single organic or inorganic compound. Others are complex.
"So you could have a particle that has an inorganic center and then an organic coating. So it can be very complicated," Ferro says.
One thing that's remarkable about dust is that it sticks around. Without vacuuming, Ferro says, it can stick around for a long time.
"We're finding things like [the pesticide] DDT in many floor dust samples," says Ferro. "We banned that decades ago, but it's still there."
In addition to breathing in dust though your nose, you can also ingest it by mouth. Heather Stapleton of Duke University studies the environmental chemicals that wind up in dust. You may not be in the habit of licking the floors or carpets in your home, but some younger members of your household might be doing essentially that.
"As a parent of a 6-month-old, I can't tell you how many times I look at my son, and I see him with his hands in his mouth all the time, or picking up a toy and putting it in his mouth," says Stapleton. "It's really difficult to quantify what mass of dust you're actually exposed to and any contaminates associated with that dust. But it definitely occurs."
Stapleton says there's a lot of work to be done in the world of dustology. "Our understanding of how much dust a person is exposed to is very limited."
So dust is more complicated than the usual common yuckyness we always thought it consisted of including human skin particles, mold spores, pollen, animal & rodent dander, sand, insect feces, and of course lots of good, old-fashioned dirt and grime.
Solution? Remove as much of it as you can from your house or hotel room.
Wishing you the best health-TheVentMaskTeam.