News Brief

Even Dust Is Fattening, Thanks to Phthalates

Household dust is laden with plasticizers and flame retardants that can trigger fat storage, researchers find.

August 31, 2015

Dust Motes Dancing by Vilhelm Hammershøi (public domain)
Children eat approximately 50 mg of dust every day, the equivalent of a low dose of aspirin, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. New research reveals how that dust could be contributing to unintended fat storage, and potentially obesity.

A study led by Duke University researcher Heather Stapleton, Ph.D., investigated how 30 common semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs)—including brominated flame retardants, organophosphates, and phthalates—in actual samples from household dust react to PPARgamma (peroxisome proliferator-activated nuclear receptor gamma), a protein responsible for triggering fat metabolism and production in our bodies.

It turns out nearly all of these chemicals can activate PPARgamma.

The bad news is that this reactor is involved in many diseases, including obesity, diabetes, atherosclerosis (a cardiovascular disease), and cancer. When common SVOCs mimic natural hormones and flip the switch, PPARgamma triggers genes responsible for fat regulation, causing additional fat storage, which in turn changes hormone levels. These metabolic changes could contribute to obesity.

“Our idea is to mimic real environmental exposure, with many chemicals, at low levels,” said one of the researchers, Mingliang Fang, quoted in ChemicalWatch.

In this study, twenty-eight SVOCs or their metabolites out of 30 tested were found to be PPARgamma agonists. These included the plasticizer DEHP (di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate), the organophosphate flame retardant BPDP (tert-butyl phenyl diphenyl phosphate), and the class of brominated flame retardants known as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers).

More on SVOCs in building products

Flame Retardant Whack-a-Mole Continues

Finding Furniture Without Toxic Flame Retardants

Two Phthalate-Free Plasticizers Stand Out in a New Report

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