'Concerning' threat in Aussie homes that's putting kids at risk

·Environment Editor
·4-min read

Household dust has been tested in 35 countries for toxicity and the results for Australia and New Zealand are concerning.

Arsenic, lead, chromium, nickel and manganese were just some of the contaminants found in homes across the globe, according to new research led by Macquarie University.

The potential for these chemicals to be ingested has increased, with the coronavirus leading to a spike in the time we spend inside.

Horrifying levels of contaminants have been found in dust samples across the globe. Source: Getty / File Image
Horrifying levels of contaminants have been found in dust samples across the globe. Source: Getty / File Image

The global estimate is that people now spend 90 per cent of their time indoors.

On average, children are spending 17 per cent more time inside since the pandemic began, and when compared with adults, they face a greater threat from toxic chemicals.

Australia records concerning levels of arsenic and lead

Of the countries analysed, Australia topped the list when it came to lead contamination.

One in six Australian homes tested were exceeding the US Environmental Protection Agency acceptable health risk for both lead and arsenic.

Lead samples gathered across Australia’s largest cities found concentrations decreased with distance from the centres of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Macquarie University postdoctoral research fellow Dr Cynthia Isley told Yahoo News homes located near busy roads when leaded petrol was used had higher levels of contamination.

Older houses with peeling lead paint were also found to contain high levels of the chemical.

Children in Australian cities at risk from lead poisoning

In particular, parents of children under five should be cautious when it comes to mitigating lead risk in homes as it can impair development.

Vacuuming regularly can help reduce the threat of carcinogens in the home. Source: Getty - File Image
Vacuuming regularly can help reduce the threat of carcinogens in the home. Source: Getty - File Image

Lead can enter the body in three main ways; skin absorption, inhalation and ingestion.

“The latter is obviously the highest risk for small children, because they put their hands in their mouth and they're not likely to wash them first,” Dr Isley said

“Obviously, if you can move to a beautiful, clean environment, that's great, but not all of us can.

“So often it's more about what we can do with the space that we've got.”

Tips to reduce lead exposure in your home

In addition to being found inside homes, lead is commonly detected in the top 100 millimetres of soil in urban Australian backyards.

Dr Isley has a few simple tips to help mitigate risk of this chemical.

  • Buy a raised garden bed and fill it with soil

  • Cover lead contaminated areas with grass or mulch

  • Do not eat vegetables grown in led contaminated soil

Inside the home, Dr Isley suggests homeowners take a few simple steps to reduce contaminants in the air.

  • Look for peeling paint and seal it

  • Get rid of old carpets

  • Vacuum regularly

Surprising practice linked to high levels of arsenic in New Zealand

In New Zealand, levels of arsenic were found to be particularly high.

Researchers found one in three New Zealand homes had levels of the chemical, which exceeded what the US Environmental Protection Agency deems an acceptable health risk for children under two.

New Zealanders have been warned not to burn chemically treated wood. Source: Getty - File Image
New Zealanders have been warned not to burn chemically treated wood. Source: Getty - File Image

Burning fence palings and treated pine logs continues to be a significant source of contamination despite education campaigns warning against the practice.

Those living close to geothermal activity and geothermal power exploitation were also found to be potentially exposed to higher levels of arsenic.

Residual pesticides in farming areas converted into housing estates are thought to be another cause.

Pets and shoes contributing to the contamination of our homes

In Australia, manganese was a chemical found to be higher in homes that have pets, with researchers concluding it was brought in from soil outside.

Dr Isley suggests ensuring muddy or dirty pets are cleaned before they’re allowed inside to help mitigate risk.

Taking off our own shoes at the door is another way to help reduce contamination of our homes.

Dr Isley said she tries to remain cool about the situation, despite being aware of the horrific cocktail of chemicals found in homes and yards.

“It hasn’t made me too crazy. My house is still dusty,” she said.

"I have had my dust tested though and it’s pretty good.”

Anyone concerned about contamination in their home or backyard can send in a sample for testing here.

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