Environmental health experts learned in the 1980s that house dust can be a significant source of exposure to hazardous pollutants such as lead and pesticides, especially for dogs, cats and human toddlers.

Now newer toxic synthetic compounds widely used in consumer products have been added to the dust mix – among them, flame retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and stain, water and grease repellents called perfluorochemicals (PFCs).

The PFCs are better known by their trademarked names Teflon® and Gore-Tex®. Flame-retardant PBDEs are commonly used in foam cushions, synthetic fabrics, and in the plastic housing of electric and electronic equipment such as coffeemakers, laptops, televisions and stereos. PBDEs can make up as much as 30 percent by weight of a stereo or television’s plastic housing. Both types of chemicals get into house dust in more or less the same way. When the television or non-stick pan heats up, the compounds volatilize and then settle on household surfaces. As treated foam and fabrics degrade, flame-retardant and stain-repellent particles crumble into dust.

These chemicals in our environment are of concern for everyone in the family. However, the added danger for our pets is that they are constantly licking these pollutants off their coats, so are exposed to very high doses. Your cat sits on the nice warm TV or sofa and grooms, grooms, grooms.

When toxicologists recently collected blood samples from 20 pet dogs and 37 pet cats in the US, they found high levels of PBDEs and PFCs in both.

What are the health effects of these indoor pollutants?

The data are just starting to be generated. Flame-retardant PBDEs have been linked to developmental, reproductive and neurological defects and cancers in la b animals, and low sperm counts and poor sperm quality in humans. PFCs cause tumours and damage to the reproductive, growth and immune systems in laboratory animals.

Only a few studies have focused specifically on the health impacts of synthetic chemicals on dogs. One shows a link between the lawn herbicide 2,4-0 and bladder cancer in Scottish Terriers, and several associate formaldehyde emissions from carpeting with seizures and other disorders. Many veterinary experts also believe that chronic exposure to synthetic industrial pollutants in house dust may be at least partially responsible for rapidly increasing cancer rates in dogs, and the extraordinary rise in feline hyperthyroidism in the last 30 years.

A typical modern household is coated in synthetic industrial chemicals as are we, along with our dogs and cats. Many of these chemicals have not been adequately tested long-term, and only now are some coming under scrutiny and in some cases being phased out.

What can you do to reduce your households burden of indoor pollutants?

As you replace furniture and rugs, choose new ones made of wool, cotton and other naturally more flame-resistant materials, and check manufacturers’ websites to find out whether these products have been made or treated with flame retardants and stain repellents.
Buy electronics from manufacturers that claim their products don’t use PBDEs.
Don’t use pans with non-stick coatings.
Grease-proof linings on pet food bags may be a significant dietary source of PFCs. If possible, use pet food bagged with untreated liners (check with the food company).
Consider changing plastic pet dishes, especially water dishes, to stainless steel or ceramic pet bowls.
Don’t use pesticides, fungicides or herbicides, or use them only sparingly and after other methods don’t work.
Use nontoxic household cleansers and polishes.
Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum! Sorry and it gets worse! The experts also recommend dusting once a week with a damp cloth. Less dust lowers the exposure of dangerous household chemicals for all the household members -including our vulnerable pets.