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Where Does Dust Come From?

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Where Does Dust Come From?

Dust. It floats lazily through beams of sunlight, it settles gently on surfaces, and it tangles with other mysterious miscellany to create inanimate creatures beneath the couch–but where does it come from, and is it harmful? Scientists in Arizona reported a surprising answer to those questions in a report, “Migration of Contaminated Soil and Airborne Particulates to Indoor Dust,” which appeared in the ACS Environmental Science & Technology journal. The verdict? Most of indoor dust comes from outdoors, and it’s not always all that innocuous.

In the study, David Layton and Paloma Beamer found that over 60 percent of house dust originates outdoors. They note that household dust consists of a mixture that includes dead skin shed by people, fibers from carpets and upholstered furniture, and tracked-in soil and airborne particles blown in from outdoors. It can include lead, arsenic and other potentially harmful substances that migrate indoors from outside air and soil. This can be of special concern for children, who can ingest these substances by spending time on a dusty floor, or by putting dusty toys and other objects into their mouths.

They estimated that nearly 60 percent of the arsenic in floor dust could come from arsenic in the surrounding air, with the remainder derived from tracked-in soil.

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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12:23PM PDT on May 2, 2013


3:08AM PDT on Sep 5, 2012

Thanks for the article.

2:01AM PDT on Jun 19, 2012

From hell,I hate dust,hate hate hate! whatever you do its just..there!

4:25PM PDT on Jun 17, 2012

Thanks for the article.

1:04AM PDT on Jun 17, 2012

thanks for sharing.

7:18AM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

I'm surprised that we survive!!

6:35AM PDT on May 15, 2011

Recently I saw a scanning electron microscopic photo of common household dust. The whole mix looks scary on very high magnification. Prominently seen are pollens, dust mites, dog/cat hairs, painf flecks. The presence of lead is not surprising. But arsenic came at me from left field. I was not aware of this. Now I've got some reading to do.

9:26PM PDT on Apr 23, 2011

always learned most dust is dead skin cells.

5:42AM PDT on Apr 8, 2011

Take off your shoes here is not standard but I do that when entering my house. Dusting.....just keep it clean always.

8:57PM PST on Feb 5, 2011


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