Toxic dust in homes and offices


Dust is everywhere in homes, offices, public transport or cars. From the moment that we are in a confined space dust is there with us!

This article focuses mainly on toxic chemicals: Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs), which are very frequently found in household and office dusts.

When we think about dust, we generally think about wiping a cloth over our furniture and knickknacks to prevent others from thinking that we are neglecting our housekeeping duties. Nothing too bad, but in reality we are dealing with a carrier of many toxic products that can be dangerous to our health.

The dusts that can pass through the respiratory traps are fine particles whose size is less than 10 µm (micrometer, PM10); this is the inhalable fraction that reaches the lungs. Particles smaller than 2.5 µm constitute the alveolar fraction that reaches the deepest part of the lungs in the pulmonary alveoli. The finer the particles, the deeper they penetrate the respiratory system and the more harmful they are. These particles contain chemical pollutants to which we are exposed on a daily basis.

The origins of dust are very varied: particles from motor traffic, textile fibers in our clothing, dead skin or hair that we or our pets leave behind, dead insects, residues from our food, the degradation of wood, paints or concrete in our homes... It is impossible to draw up an exhaustive list and when the dust does not originate from what is happening in your home, you take it home with you on the sole of your shoes or on your clothes.

Important detail, the drier the air, the more dust will be present in the air. It is therefore important to control the humidity of your indoor environment to limit the presence of fine particles in the air but also the risks of respiratory tract irritation (relative humidity < 40%) and mold growth (relative humidity > 60%).

If you live in a city or not far from an industrial site, all kinds of substances are likely to pollute your indoor air via dust, such as lead or asbestos.

We could even speak of "contemporary dust" because as a result of the change in our consumption habits, we now find in dust chemical compounds that did not exist in the past and that are not very present outside confined spaces.

The French Indoor Air Quality Observatory (OQAI) regularly conducts campaigns to measure indoor air quality in order to assess the situation in France and identify substances of health concern.

Between 2008 and 2009, a campaign called "Lead Habitat" was carried out on 484 residences to collect dust deposited on the ground using domestic vacuums. Samplings of suspended particles, known as fine dust (PM10), was also carried out on filters using pumps during the “National Housing Campaign” between 2003 and 2005.

Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs) were investigated in suspended fine particle samples and in ground deposited dust. The chemicals sought in dust samples are plasticizers (phthalates, tributyl phosphate TBP and bisphenol-A), combustion residues (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons PAHs), flame retardants (Poly-Chloro-Biphenyl PCB and Poly-Brominated Diphenyl-Ether PBDE), pesticides (organochlorines, organophosphates and pyrethroids) and odorous agents (Polycyclic Musks).


Pesticides are chemicals used to eliminate biological species that are considered undesirable. The main categories of pesticides are insecticides, herbicides and fungicides.

In the indoor environment, they come from the treatment of domestic animals, insect control (mosquitoes, wasps and hornets, flies, cockroaches and ants) and wood treatments for their protection against wood-borne insects (insecticides) and mold (fungicides).

The presence of pesticides has been detected in the majority of dust samples deposited on the ground.

Samples contained permethrin, a pyrethroid insecticide used in mosquito repellents (spirals, diffusers and sprays) and a large number of household insecticides. It is generally accompanied by piperonide butoxide, a synergistic additive that increases the toxicity of pyrethroids such as bifenthrin and cypermethrin by a factor of 100 to 1000.

Most houses and offices are contaminated with insecticides such as permethrine

Other insecticides have also been frequently detected in homes: lindane (HCH range, Hexa-Chloro-cycloHexane), 4,4'-DDE (DDT degradation product, insecticide banned for several decades), chlorpyrifos, deltamethrin, dieldrin, oxadiazon, cyfluthrin, cypermethrin, endosulfan, diazinon, aldrin and endrin.

Most of these pesticides are persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that have been banned for several decades and insecticides. A large number of these molecules are endocrine disrupters and occupants are chronically exposed to them, i.e. at low doses but daily.

Dust analysis in homes and offices with a YOOTEST Domestic Pesticides Test is used to assess the contamination of the indoor environment by persistent organic pollutants (POPs), insecticides, herbicides and fungicides in common household use.


Plasticizers are chemical molecules that are added to plastic polymers during the manufacturing process to modify their mechanical properties.

In the indoor environment, they originate from the plastics that are present in homes and offices: floor coverings, carpets and rugs, paints, synthetic surfaces covering wooden furniture, plastic materials, synthetic fabric fibers...

Plasticizers were detected in all dust samples collected on the ground.

Samples contained bisphenol A and several phthalates: benzyl-butyl phthalate (BBP), di-butyl phthalate (DBP), di-ethyl-hexyl phthalate (DEHP), di-iso-butyl phthalate (DiBP) and di-iso-nonyl phthalate (DiNP).

In addition to being ubiquitous in the houses, the concentrations of these endocrine disrupters have been found to be very high.


Plasticizers such as phthalates and bisphenols are the main pollutants in indoor air

Dust analysis in homes and offices with a YOOTEST Platicizers Test is used to assess the contamination of the indoor environment by persistent organic pollutants (POPs), insecticides, herbicides and fungicides of common household use

Combustion residues

Combustion of materials produces soot loaded with Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons or PAHs.

In the indoor environment, they come from cooking, burning candles, incense and perfumes, fireplaces and stoves used for heating. The most important contaminations come from residues and fumes produced during a fire or fire damage.

The results of the dust analyses revealed the presence of phenanthrene, fluorene and benzo(a)pyrene in all the samples.

Benzo(a)pyrene or BaP is dangerous to health as it is classified as a known carcinogen (Group 1) by the World Health Organization (WHO). Other PAHs are also frequently detected, such as anthracene and acenaphthene. Most PAHs are categorized as probable (Group 2A) and possible (Group 2B) carcinogens. These carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting pollutants are present in dust in low concentrations but are present in large quantities after fire damage.

The measurement of PAHs to determine indoor air contamination can be performed with a YOOTEST Fire Damage Test. Laboratory analyses focus on the priority PAHs in the US EPA list including beno(a)pyrene

Flame retardants

Flame retardants are chemicals that are added to many materials and consumer goods. They are used to reduce their combustibility and limit the risk of fire.

The main sources of flame retardants in the indoor environment are plastics, furniture foams (armchairs, sofas), electronic devices (computers, televisions, etc.), carpets and upholstery fabrics (curtains, armchairs, sofas, etc.) and clothing.

There are several families of flame retardants to look for in homes and offices. Polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs are organochlorine chemicals that were widely used until their prohibition in the 1990s. They are listed in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) but continue to contaminate our indoor environments due to their high persistence in the environment.

They have been replaced by Poly-Brominated-Diphenyl-Ethers or PBDEs. The latter pose a significant risk to people and the environment. They are also listed as POPs under the Stockholm Convention. Although PBDEs are not yet completely banned, they are substituted by Tetra-Bromo-Bisphenol-A and various chemical molecules of the organophosphate family such as Tri-Phenyl-Phosphate (TPP) or Tris(2-ChlorEthyl)-Phosphate (TCEP).

PCBs and PBDEs are endocrine disrupters that were measured in the vast majority of dust samples during the OQAI campaign. The most common compounds are: PBDE209, PBDE99, PBDE47, PCB101, PCB 138, PCB 153 and PCB 118.

Organophosphates are neurotoxic substances that affect the functioning of the central and peripheral nervous systems.

Flame retardants are endocrine disrupters and neurotoxic products. They are very often measured in indoor air at levels of concern to human health

Contamination of the indoor environment by flame retardants can be controlled with a YOOTEST Flame Retardant Test. Laboratory analyses include PCBs, PBDEs, organophosphates and TBBA.

The conclusions of this measurement campaign are worrying and demonstrate a proven pollution of all dwellings by multiple chemicals. COSVs are found on the dust particles that we are breathing daily in our homes or at the workplace.

We are chronically subjected to this diffuse and persistent pollution. Children are more vulnerable to this pollution than adults, especially with regard to the impact of endocrine disrupters.

The OQAI has also carried out a monitoring campaign in schools and the results of the residential campaign are unfortunately confirmed for schools where our children spend many hours a day during their school years.

Chemical pollutants are much more stable in buildings than in outdoor environments. As a result, contamination of indoor air with these toxic molecules is long-lasting and persistent. Most of these pollutants are present in the products we use on a daily basis in household products, cosmetics, electronic devices, but also in our furniture.

To limit this pollution, it is essential to ventilate your home daily because outdoor air is less polluted than indoor air.

Living in a polluted indoor environment leads to chronic exposure of occupants and poses a risk to their health. Carrying out an indoor air quality test to look for pesticides, plasticizers, combustion residues and flame retardants makes it possible to assess the contamination of homes and offices and to act to limit the presence of these toxic molecules in the indoor environment.

Agricultural Pesticides Test

Indoor air quality diagnosis to measure indoor environmental pollution by pesticides: insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Test with laboratory analysis. Order your Test

Domestic Pesticides Test

Indoor air quality diagnosis to measure indoor environmental pollution by pesticides: insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Test with laboratory analysis. Order your Test

Fire Damage Pollution Test

Indoor air quality diagnosis to measure the pollution of the indoor environment by PAHs. Test with laboratory analysis.. Order your Test

Flame Retardants Pollution Test

Indoor air quality diagnosis to measure indoor air pollution by PCBs, PBDEs, organochlorines and organophosphates. Test with laboratory analysis. Order your Test