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Indoor air is an underestimated source of dangerous chemicals

According to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, the indoor air we breathe at home, in offices, or classrooms can be polluted with harmful PFAS chemicals. These findings suggest that indoor air is an underestimated source of exposure to dangerous chemicals.

PFAS chemicals are well-known health hazards that are often associated with cancer, infertility, and immune system problems. Moreover, they are either extremely persistent in many environments or capable of breaking down into highly persistent elements. 

“Food and water are known to be major sources of PFAS exposure,” said Rainer Lohmann, senior author and professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island.

“Our study shows that indoor air, including dust, is another source of exposure to potentially harmful forever chemicals. In fact, for children in homes or schools with old PFAS-treated carpets, inhalation may be even more important than dust as an exposure pathway to volatile PFAS that eventually could biotransform to more persistent and harmful PFAS.”

Professor Lohmann and colleagues measured the concentration of PFAS in the air in nine carpeted kindergarten classrooms, one home, the storage room of a Californian clothing store, two carpet stores from Rhode Island, as well as in two labs, five offices, one storage area, and one elevator at the University of Rhode Island. 

They detected PFAS chemicals in all of these locations, several kindergarten and university classrooms having even higher concentrations than the clothing store, where most of the clothes and gear were treated with PFAS. However, the highest concentration was found in two carpet stores. 

“PFAS were formerly used as stain and water repellents in most carpets,” explained study lead author Maya Morales-McDevitt. “Fortunately, major retailers including The Home Depot and Lowe’s now only sell PFAS-free carpets. We believe that slowly smaller retailers will do so as well.”

Although families, schools, and workplaces are currently reducing indoor concentrations of PFAS by replacing carpets, many other products, such as clothes, shoes, building products, and furnishing still emit PFAS chemicals in the air. 

“As long as they continue to be used in products, we’ll all be eating, drinking, and breathing PFAS,” concluded co-author Tom Bruton, a senior scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute. “We need to turn off the tap and stop all unnecessary uses of PFAS as soon as possible.”

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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