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Household sprays release dangerous nanoparticles that linger in the home

Did you know that the choices you make in the supermarket aisle might have more consequences than you think? A new study sheds light on nanoparticles, tiny ingredients in many household products, and the potential risks they might pose to your health.

What are nanoparticles?

Nanoparticles are astonishingly tiny fragments of a material, measuring approximately one billionth of a meter in size. Due to their extraordinarily small size, nanoparticles can exhibit unique and surprising properties that differ significantly from those of the same material in its everyday, bulk form.

For instance, bulk gold typically displays a familiar yellow hue. However, when gold is reduced to the nanoscale, it exhibits a surprising change in color based on its size and the shape of the nanoparticles. Smaller gold nanoparticles may appear red, while larger particles can shift towards purple or even blue. These distinctive and often unexpected properties make nanoparticles incredibly valuable for integration into a vast array of products.

Nanoparticles are utilized across a variety of industries due to their unique properties. In cosmetics, they are added to improve the smoothness of products and enhance sun protection, making creams and lotions more effective against UV rays.

Similarly, in household cleaning solutions, nanoparticles are used to increase the germ-fighting capabilities of these products. This allows for more efficient cleaning and disinfecting processes. The versatility of nanoparticles enables them to be a beneficial additive in numerous consumer products.

Nanoparticle danger zone in household

A new study from Rutgers University has shed light on a hidden consequence of using everyday household products containing nanoparticles. These products, commonly found in sunscreens, cleaning solutions, and even cosmetics, release tiny nanoparticles when sprayed. The cause for concern lies not just in the initial release, but in the particles’ lingering presence.

Unlike typical dust or larger particles that might settle and remain relatively stationary, nanoparticles don’t simply disappear after leaving the spray can. Instead, they act more like microscopic hitchhikers. They cling to surfaces like carpets and floors, creating a potential reservoir of airborne particles. The truly unsettling aspect comes into play with our everyday activities.

Settled household nanoparticles

“If an adult is walking in a room, and steps on some of these deposited particles, we found that the particles will be re-suspended in the air and rise as high as that person’s breathing zone,” said Gediminas Mainelis, a professor at Rutgers.

The very act of walking across a recently sprayed room can disturb these settled nanoparticles in household. This disturbance acts like a microscopic dust storm, kicking the particles back up into the air. The issue arises because the resuspension zone of nanoparticles overlaps with our breathing zone in household. This overlap raises concerns about the potential for inhalation of these particles.

Prolonged inhalation could pose risks to our respiratory systems. The long-term health effects of such exposure to nanoparticles remain a significant concern. These effects are still under investigation, highlighting the need for caution and further research.

Children are potentially at even greater risk. Since they play on the floor and are closer to the ground, their exposure to these particles may be much higher.

Why does the exposure matter?

The long-term health effects of exposure to nanoparticles remain a subject of intense scientific investigation. The minuscule size of nanoparticles is at the heart of this uncertainty.

When a material is scaled down to the nanoscale, its properties can shift dramatically from the way it acts in bulk form. This means standard methods for understanding and predicting a material’s safety may not apply fully.

Consequently, it’s difficult to say with absolute certainty how nanoparticles will interact with the human body over extended periods of time. The concern among scientists is the possibility of our bodies responding to these microscopic particles in negative and surprising ways.

These reactions might take years or even decades to manifest, making long-term studies and careful monitoring essential to uncover the full picture.

What can you do?

While it’s alarming to think about an invisible hazard in your home, there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure to nanoparticles:

Be a responsible shopper

When shopping for household items and personal care products, pay attention to their labeling. Some products might specifically mention “nano-free” or “does not contain nanoparticles” on their packaging.

The “nano-free” designation on products is crucial. It confirms that the product does not contain engineered nanoparticles. These nanoparticles are typically added to enhance product features, such as clarity, strength, or sun protection in sunscreens.

By choosing products labeled as nano-free, you can reduce your exposure to nanoparticles in households. This reduction is important because some studies suggest there could be health risks associated with nanoparticle exposure.

However, it’s important to understand that such labeling does not guarantee complete avoidance of all nano-sized particles naturally present in the environment, but it does help in reducing exposure from engineered sources.

Choose ventilation

Effective ventilation is crucial when using products that may release nanoparticles, such as aerosol sprays, paints, or other pressurized goods. To facilitate the rapid dissipation of these particles, open windows or use an exhaust fan to increase airflow in the area where the products are used.

This not only helps in reducing the concentration of nanoparticles that you might inhale but also minimizes overall indoor air pollution. Increased airflow can significantly lower the duration these particles remain airborne, thereby reducing the likelihood of respiratory exposure.

Mask up

For individuals who are either particularly sensitive to chemicals or concerned about potential health risks from nanoparticles, wearing a protective mask can be a beneficial precaution. Masks, especially those rated N95 or higher, can filter out a significant portion of nano-sized particles.

This preventive measure is particularly recommended when using sprays or other products in confined or poorly ventilated spaces. By wearing a mask, you can protect your respiratory system from inhaling nanoparticles that might be suspended in the air during and after the application of such products.

Read the labels

Regularly checking and understanding the ingredient lists on products can be a very effective way to control your exposure to nanoparticles. Many consumer products, such as sunscreens, cosmetics, and household cleaning sprays, may contain nanoparticles for their beneficial properties.

Manufacturers often use ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide in nanoparticle form in sunscreens for their UV protection properties. Similarly, they might include silver nanoparticles for their antimicrobial effects.

By reading labels, you can make informed choices about avoiding products with these ingredients if you are concerned about the potential health impacts. This habit also helps you become more aware of the chemical contents in your everyday products, fostering better consumer awareness and safety practices.

Awareness on household nanoparticles is key

We don’t have all the answers about the long-term consequences of nanoparticle exposure. But researchers like those at Rutgers are drawing attention to a potential problem lurking right under our noses. “At this point, it’s more about increasing awareness so that people know just what they are using,” said Mainelis.

By knowing what these products contain, we can make informed choices about how to protect the health of ourselves and our families.

The study is published in the journal Science of The Total Environment.


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