Didn’t get around to dusting this weekend? Don’t worry. It turns out that dust might actually hold some benefits for you.
The perennial household nuisance actually purifies the air by neutralizing ozone that can harm our lungs.
Dust can do this because one of its major components is human skin — which contains the ozone-eliminating component squalene.
So don’t feel too bad about the fact that bits of your body are accumulating on the DVD player.
“Dust is parts of … people that have been in that room,” said Charles Weschler, who helped author a study whose results were announced this week by the American Chemical Society.
“I mean, that’s a gross way of thinking about it.”
Humans constantly shed their skin, losing up to 500 million cells per day. At that rate, according to Weschler, it would take a person two to four weeks to turn over all of the skin cells on their body.
It’s these skin flakes that clean the air. Their squalene helps neutralize ozone.
Most people might think of ozone as a good thing — and it is, when it’s up high in the atmosphere and protecting us from ultraviolet radiation. But when it’s down here, closer to us in the air that we breathe, it’s a pollutant.
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, even very low concentrations of ozone can be harmful to the upper respiratory tract and the lungs.
In their study, published in the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Science and Technology, Weschler and colleagues studied the potential of ozone removal by dust in Danish homes and daycares.
They found the reduction of ozone could be anywhere from two to 15 per cent, depending on the amount of squalene present in the dust.
The benefits could be even greater.
Weschler’s study only looked at the squalene in settled dust. He thinks that squalene from dust can also stick to surfaces like windows or desks, and this squalene coating could lead to a higher-than-calculated ozone reduction.
Dust isn’t the only source of squalene in our environment. We’re literally covered in it.
“The skin oils on our surface, (the) skin oils on our forehead, or our nose or the oils responsible for us leaving fingerprints behind, those skin oils contain squalene,” said Weschler, a professor at the School of Public Health at the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey.
“Squalene is actually the single most abundant chemical in our skin surface (oils).”
He calls human beings, “remarkably good ozone sinks.”
But before you pack away that feather-duster forever, there are some caveats.
Of course, lower ozone levels will hardly provide comfort to your guests with dust allergies who wind up hacking and wheezing when they come over.
And not much is known about the health effects of the compounds formed when squalene and ozone react with each other.