Priorities soon may change, because new research published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology finds that common household dust can cause fat cells to accumulate more triglycerides, or fat.
The problematic components are endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These are synthetic or naturally occurring compounds that can interfere with, or mimic, a person’s hormones. Since they are in products like frequently used flame retardants, dust from EDCs tends to be prevalent.
“It is not clear at this time which items contribute most to EDC concentrations measured in dust,” senior author Heather Stapleton of Duke University said. “The use of many of these chemicals is considered Confidential Business Information (CBI) and is often not disclosed to the public.”
“What we do know,” she added, “is that furniture, insulation, electronics, and other building components contain these chemicals, and are likely sources for the dust.”
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Stapleton, lead author Christopher Kassotis, and co-author Kate Hoffman made the dust-fat connection after analyzing samples of indoor dust from 11 homes in North Carolina. Extracts from seven of the eleven samples triggered the accumulation of triglycerides, a type of fat, in a lab dish. Extracts from nine samples did even more. They spurred the cells to divide, resulting in a larger amount of precursor fat cells.
Among the forty-four individual common house dust contaminants tested — chemicals such as phthalates, parabens, pesticides, and phenolics — three exhibited the strongest fat-producing effects. They were the pesticide pyraclostrobin, the flame retardant TBPDP, and the commonly used plasticizer DBP.
Prior research on animals suggests that early life exposure to some EDCs can cause weight gain later in life. Some scientists even refer to these ubiquitous chemicals now as “obesogens.”
Stapleton and other researchers believe that EDCs may interact with fetus stem cells and other developing tissues, causing them to develop in a different way than what would normally occur.
“For example,” she said, an EDC “might change the way an adipocyte (fat cell) functions in adulthood. This might make it easier for these cells to accumulate lipids and lead to greater weight gain in one individual with high exposure during perinatal periods, compared to someone that was not exposed during the perinatal period. However, more research is really needed to understand these long-term effects.”