Monitoring and reducing exposure of infants to pollutants in house dust.
US Environmental Protection Agency, Reston, VA 22091, USA.
The health risks to babies from pollutants in house dust may be 100 times greater than for adults. The young ingest more dust and are up to ten times more vulnerable to such exposures. House dust is the main exposure source for infants to allergens, lead, and PBDEs, as well as a major source of exposure to pesticides, PAHs, Gram-negative bacteria, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, phthalates, phenols, and other EDCs, mutagens, and carcinogens. Median or upper percentile concentrations in house dust of lead and several pesticides and PAHs may exceed health-based standards in North America. Early contact with pollutants among the very young is associated with higher rates of chronic illness such as asthma, loss of intelligence, ADHD, and cancer in children and adults. The potential of infants, who live in areas with soil contaminated by automotive and industrial emissions, can be given more protection by improved home cleaning and hand washing. Babies who live in houses built before 1978 have a prospective need for protection against lead exposures; homes built before 1940 have even higher lead exposure risks. The concentration of pollutants in house dust may be 2-32 times higher than that found in the soil near a house. Reducing infant exposures, at this critical time in their development, may reduce lifetime health costs, improve early learning, and increase adult productivity. Some interventions show a very rapid payback. Two large studies provide evidence that home visits to reduce the exposure of children with poorly controlled asthma triggers may return more than 100% on investment in 1 yr in reduced health costs. The tools provided to families during home visits, designed to reduce dust exposures, included vacuum cleaners with dirt finders and HEPA filtration, allergy control bedding covers, high-quality door mats, and HEPA air filters. Infants receive their highest exposure to pollutants in dust at home, where they spend the most time, and where the family has the most mitigation control. Normal vacuum cleaning allows deep dust to build up in carpets where it can be brought to the surface and become airborne as a result of activity on the carpet. Vacuums with dirt finders allow families to use the three-spot test to monitor deep dust, which can reinforce good cleaning habits. Motivated families that receive home visits from trained outreach workers can monitor and reduce dust exposures by 90% or more in 1 wk. The cost of such visits is low considering the reduction of risks achieved. Improved home cleaning is one of the first results observed among families who receive home visits from MHEs and CHWs. We believe that proven intervention methods can reduce the exposure of infants to pollutants in house dust, while recognizing that much remains to be learned about improving the effectiveness of such methods.
PMID: 19484587 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]