Exposure of children to pollutants in house dust and indoor air

Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 1995:143:59-78. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4612-2542-3_3.


This review summarizes occurrence and exposure studies for pollutants in house dust and related indoor air exposures. A standard sampling method and control methods to reduce these exposures are discussed, including recommendations for future research. Infants and toddlers receive a broad and significant range of exposures to lead, pesticides, PAHs, allergens, and VOCs in house dust and indoor air. Carpet dust in eight Columbus and nine Seattle homes contained concentrations of potentially carcinogenic PAHs ranging from 3 to 290 micrograms/g, of lead from 250 to 2250 micrograms/g, and of PCBs from 210 to 1900 ng/g. Dust collected from ten used sofas in Seattle averaged 16.3, 37.2, and 229 micrograms/g for dust mite allergen, cat allergen, and lead, respectively; dust samples showed mutagenic activity. Biological and chemical pollutants in indoor dust and air have been associated with lead poisoning, cancer, allergy, asthma, damage to the nervous system, and sick building symptoms. The 11% of toddlers who have pica tend to have the highest exposures and risks. Further, the exposure of toddlers to lead via the dust pathway can be greater than by other routes. Standard method ASTM 5438.94 for sampling house dust has been used to characterize current and chronic exposure of toddlers in epidemiological studies. The accumulation of dust, dust mites, and tracked-in soil in old carpets, sofas, and mattresses appears to be a major source of exposure to lead, pesticides, allergens, PAHs, and VOCs. Remodeling and energy conservation can reduce ventilation and increase relative humidity, dust, dust mites, molds, VOCs, and other indoor air pollutants. The U.S. faces large and increasing costs from asthma and allergy. Asthma incidence in the U.S. has increased from 0.5% in 1930 to 8%-12% in 1991. Asthma hospitalization rates for children are increasing at the rate of 4%/yr in the U.S. and 14%/yr in Seattle. Such hospital visits would be rare with effective diagnosis, patient education, and control of home exposures. Asthma was estimated to cost $6.2 billion in 1990; hospital visits of children in Seattle cost $2,526,000 in 1993. Forty percent of the U.S. population has been sensitized to allergens; one in three homes has high relative humidity, which favors dust mites, molds, allergies, asthma, and other respiratory diseases. Reducing indoor allergens can reduce costs, severity, and the risk of being sensitized and developing allergic disease. Use of volunteer Master Home Environmentalists to do free in-home surveys and education in Seattle may reduce immediate health costs from allergens as well as long-term risks from lead, carcinogens, and home chemicals.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dust / adverse effects*
  • Housing*
  • Humans


  • Air Pollutants
  • Dust