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DUST TESTING

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This page contains a lot of important information about Dust, Health concerns associated with dust exposure and Dust analysis for heavy metals along with Example Results. You can use the arrow at the bottom to quickly scroll back up.

Dust Testing in Australia

Affordable for families; Sensitive enough to reveal possible contaminations or elevated background levels; Prioritising human health; Australian first, using local and global data, deep research and innovative visualisation (see Example Results on this page); Comparison to natural geochemical soil levels included; Emphasis on Homes, Schools, Workspaces and Offices; References and Rationale for Precautionary Threshold Values (PTV) included below.

Core Dust Analysis results show total levels of each of the 32 Metals, Heavy Metals, Metalloids and Minerals in your DUST sample and are presented as milligrams of the element per kilogram dust (mg/kg). Dust samples are analysed by our Laboratory here in Australia via Total Acid (Aqua Regia) digest using - Inductively Coupled Plasma - Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) | Elements tested include -
Antimony (Sb), Silver (Ag), Arsenic (As), Lead (Pb), Cadmium (Cd), Chromium (Cr), Copper (Cu), Manganese (Mn), Nickel (Ni), Selenium (Se), Zinc (Zn), Mercury (Hg), Iron (Fe), Aluminium (Al), Lithium (Li), Beryllium (Be), Boron (B), Vanadium (V), Cobalt (Co), Strontium (Sr), Molybdenum (Mo), Barium (Ba), Thallium (TL), Bismuth (Bi), Thorium (Th), Uranium (U), Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), Potassium (K), Sodium (Na), Sulphur (S), Phosphorus (P)

Auxiliary Dust analyses when needed-

    These are options on the main Core Dust Order form

  • Pesticide Screen - Includes ultra Low Level Pesticide Analysis of: Organo-chlorines (OC), Organo-phosphates (OP), Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs).
  • Glyphosate - (Round Up) + AMPA (Glyphosate main metabolite) Screen
  • PFAS - standard level 28 suite with detection 0.5 μg/kg Includes the analysis of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in dust
  • Silica - Total Includes specialised high temperature fusion extraction of silicon. This tests for silicon Dioxide – the substance that causes silicosis
  • Asbestos - Asbestos Identification (Not Quantifiable) - Identification in building material, soil, compost and dust. Only shows presence of Asbestos – not quantity
  • Extra Metals - Titanium, Gadolinium, Gold, Tin, Palladium, Caesium, Platinum, Cerium, Dysprosium, Erbium, Europium, Holmium, Lanthanum, Lutetium, Neodymium, Praseodymium, Samarium, Scandium, Terbium, Thulium, Ytterbium, and Yttrium.

Recent studies have demonstrated that human exposure to indoor contaminants is an emerging area of health concern, especially due to the fact that people spend up to 90% of their time indoors

Ref: Human exposure and risk associated with trace element concentrations in indoor dust from Australian homes 2019

Sources of Dust
Sources and properties of dust that can make its way into our homes, workspaces and schools.


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Sydney Harbour Bridge during a red dust storm

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Dust dancing in the sunlight - WikiMedia

The primary purpose of the Toxtest Core Dust Analysis is to reveal elevated concentrations of heavy metals in dust. We are exposed to dust around the home, school, play area, office or workplace. More than half of the Metals and Minerals we test for are known to be toxic, dangerous, carcinogenic or have unknown effects on humans. This then allows for informed decisions to be made and actions to be taken that will minimise exposure.

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Dust Storm in Black Rock Desert Nevada USA

Dust is tricky. It finds its way into our bodies in multiple ways. We can breathe it, we can ingest it, and we can get it on our skin. Heavy metals attached to dust have means to enter our bodies. Young children are most susceptible to ingestion because of their constant hand-to-mouth activities while playing on the floor. Toddlers can ingest small amounts of dust and dirt hundreds of times during the day.

Dust particles vary in shape and size. The particle size ranges from >2 mm to <63 microns with approximately one third of the dust being smaller than 500 microns. Heavy Metals and minerals go through what is called an enrichment process when it comes to dust. This means that as the dust particles get smaller the concentration of the heavy metals adhering to them, increases (expressed as mg of metal per kg of dust). This is in part due the the larger surface area of the smaller dust particles. The enrichment of components can be quantified by the enrichment factor, which is calculated as the quotient of the concentration of a component in the finest fraction and its concentration in the whole house dust <500 microns. This becomes a problem when airborne dust particles get smaller than 10 microns in diametre and especially if they are less than 2.5 microns (also called PM2.5) in diameter. A micron is equal to one millionth of a metre. There are about 25,000 microns in an inch.

Particles in the PM2.5 size range are able to travel deeply into the respiratory tract, reaching the lungs. Different metals are enriched more than others with the highest enrichment factors found for Vanadium (5.7), Cobalt (4.8), Sulphur (4.6), Barium (4.2), Strontium (4.6) and Lead (3.7). Cadmium, although not measure in this study, also has a high enrichment factor. Ref: Variations in the composition of house dust by particle size 2017


Older Carpet

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Overall, it is clear that carpet can influence our exposures to particles and volatile compounds in the indoor environment by acting as a direct source, as a reservoir of environmental contaminants, and as a surface supporting chemical and biological transformations.

Foot traffic, especially if shoes are worn inside the home, always brings a range of heavy metals that are deposited and accumulate in the rug or carpet. Carpet and underlay also breaks down over years, potentially releasing contaminants in dust.
New experimental data on the friction velocity across the carpet fiber surface is needed to model aerodynamic lift and drag forces induced by different types of human-carpet contacts, such as infant crawling and adult walking. These models also need to consider the structure of dust deposits within carpets and how the structure affects size-resolved resuspension fractions/rates and particle adhesion forces.

The use of walk-off mats at the entrance of buildings affects particulate matter exposure. Generally, walk-off mats are used for aesthetic purposes to avoid visible soiling of other flooring materials, but there are some preliminary data that indicate that the enhanced deposition of carpet used in the entryway could help prevent contaminants from entering the remainder of the building.

Ref: Ten questions concerning the implications of carpet on indoor chemistry and microbiology 2019

New Carpet

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Warning - some people may find this distressing! "Many carpet backings are filled with recycled content, with mixed benefits and impacts. The most common recycled filler, fly ash, is generated at coal-fired power plants and raises considerable concerns. Fly ash is a product of burning coal. It is powdery, very fine, and spherical; because of these properties, it is a functional replacement for limestone (calcium carbonate) filler. Loading carpet with fly ash is a low cost way for building product manufacturers to incorporate high percentages of recycled content in carpet, and thus help building projects meet sustainability criteria found in green building codes and rating systems. Most carpets now contain fly ash generated by coal-fired power plants. Fly ash comprises over 40% of some carpets’ weight. Fly ash is carrying increasing amounts of toxic heavy metals like arsenic, mercury and lead into our buildings." See Dust from Coal Mining on this page for other metals and exposures from Fly Ash. Ref: Eliminating Toxics in Carpet: Lessons for the Future of Recycling 2017


Public information about preventing exposure to mineralised or contaminated soil and subsequent dust is an essential component of public health programs to minimise community exposure to these contaminants.

Dust from Industry

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Dust from industry in urban environments can get into homes and businesses

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Dust from Aviation Flight Simulator

Some Paints and primers used in some parts of the aviation, aerospace and airforce industry have been know to contain large amounts of Cadmium and Hexavalent Chromium (the highly toxic version). There have been efforts to reduce this practice as can be seen by this reference Cadmium and Hexavalent Chromium Alternatives 5-Year Strategy and Roadmap, 2016. Dust generated in workplaces that use these paint products can contain significant amount of Cadmium and Chromium as a result. In 2019 we tested some dust from the floor of a flight simulator. The levels of Cadmium (2,790 mg/kg) were a staggering 9000 times higher than our threshold level and even 270 times higher than the Australian Government Soil Contamination or Health Guideline for Cadmium for Residential A Soil (there are no government guidelines for settled dust), The de-identified result is below -


"When it comes to plating parts, engineers are faced with a challenge. Cadmium has long been used to provide a sacrificial coating in the aerospace industry. The sacrificial coating corrodes in preference to the substrate, a property which is especially important when the substrate is scratched or damaged. But government mandates and environmental concerns are driving manufacturers to find alternatives for cadmium" Ref: The aerospace secret standard

However our research has confirmed that Cadmium Plating is still happening in these industries with ads online like "Do you have Cadmium Plating needs? We are the one-stop source for all metal finishing and plating needs."

Dust containing Peeling paint

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Dust from older homes can contain peeling paint with significant levels harmful Lead (Pb)

A potential danger for children under the age of 5-6 years as they ingest a lot of dust and soil through their extensive hand-to-mouth activity all day long.

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Dust from Agriculture

Dust from farming can contain pesticides and historic/legacy heavy metals. Arsenic was once used extensively in farming. The use of heavy metals in modern farming practices has been reduced, at least in Candada, USA, Europe and Australia. However some use still persists. We can search these US and Australian government websites to get at least some idea of which heavy metals are still being used. Websites -

Australia - APVMA and USA - Department of Pesticide Regulation

However, these web site mostly only list the "active ingredients" in a pesticide formulation. Recent research has found that heavy metals are indeed contained in many herbicide formulations used commonly and extensively in modern agriculture. see - Toxicity of formulants and heavy metals...2018

"Commercial phosphate (P) fertilizers contain small amounts of heavy-metal contaminants which were minor constituents in phosphate rock (PR). Animal manures and sewage sludges (biosolids) are the main organic fertilizers and the latter also may contain heavy-metal contaminants. Heavy metals in biosolids may be found in the inorganic form or may be organically complexed, which could affect their chemical reactions in soil. These heavy metals may accumulate in soil with repeated fertilizer applications. Cadmium (Cd) is the heavy metal of most concern because it may affect human health. Other heavy metals of possible significance are arsenic (As), chromium (Cr), lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), nickel (Ni), and vanadium (V)." REF: Heavy metal contaminants in inorganic and organic fertilizers Lead may be present at relatively high concentrations in some metallic trace element fertilisers.

Note that we also offer a sensitive pesticide screen as part of both our soil and dust tests. Available as options on the Core Dust Test order form

  • Pesticide Screen - Includes ultra Low Level Pesticide Analysis of: Organo-chlorines (OC), Organo-phosphates (OP), Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs).
  • Glyphosate - (Round Up) + AMPA (Glyphosate main metabolite) Screen
dust testing toxtest

Dust from Demolition and Building

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Dust from Construction

Heavy Metals - What are they?

Any toxic metal may be called a heavy metal, irrespective of its' atomic mass or density, although generally, heavy metals have densities above 5g/cm3 and as part of Earth's Elements, they cannot be degraded or destroyed.

Fifty three of the ninety naturally occurring Earth's Elements are heavy metals and those of highest concern to human, animal and environmental health include arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, mercury, manganese, nickel, lead, tin, and thallium.

Ref: Environmental Pollution by Heavy Metal: An Overview, 2019

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Dust from Mining

Metal contamination has markedly increased near and since coal-fired power stations have been constructed and operated.

Once metals are released to the atmosphere, they return to the surface environment by both wet and dry depositional processes.

"The mining and subsequent combustion of coal generates significant amounts of Metals and metalloids and these are released into the environment and nearby homes and businesses both via the dust produced during the extraction of coal (open-cut coal mines), as well as during the combustion process. Metal emission rates are, therefore, dependent on the total amount of metal present in the coal, the amount and method of coal mined and combusted and the type of pollution control devices employed within power stations.

Coal-fired power stations are ageing in Australia and it is rare for modern devices to control particle (and consequently metal) emissions to be retrofitted. By 2030, around half of the 24 coal-fired power stations in Australia will be over 40 years old, with some stations having operated for nearly 60 years."

While Aluminium and Magnesium are indicative of normal erosion processes of soil, increases in other metals commonly found in higher concentrations in coal ash and coal dust like Arsenic, Lead, Zinc, Cobalt and Selenium, suggest that the catchment soils near the mines and power plants have been contaminated since the establishment of coal mining and burning activities through atmospheric deposition.

Note that while this research did not measure Antimony, other reports have found that coal mining and coal burning by-products also contain Antimony. and other metals like Mercury.

Ref: Assessing environmental contamination from metal emission and relevant regulations in major areas of coal mining and electricity generation in Australia, 2020

Ref: Mercury from Coal and Power Plants, 2020

Ref: Assessment and Distribution of Antimony in Soils around Three Coal Mines, Anhui, China, 2011

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Toxtest and Environmental Analysis Laboratory (EAL), a NATA certified laboratory (Number:14960) and division of Southern Cross University in Lismore, NSW, Australia, collaborate to provide affordable soil and dust testing for the public. Result presentation is visually rich, informative and prioritises human and animal health. The Core Dust Test analyses 32 heavy metals & minerals. Auxiliary tests can be added like Multiple Pesticides, Glyphosate (Round Up), PFAS and PFOS, Silica, Asbestos and Extra Metals


Core Dust Test
Example Results

See what results look like


Dust
Exposure
How and Where we are exposed. We can spend many, many hours of the day in these spaces.
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Office area with cubicles in high rise building

Dust can circulate through some Air Conditioning systems, get electrostatically attracted and attached to electronic devices like computers and lights, get stored in carpet and re-released into the office space and end up on desks and workspaces. Note that some laser printers and photocopiers also release very fine particles of toxic ink powder. Best to keep your distance from them.


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Group of pupils walking in school corridor to class room

"Air quality inside schools, particularly in primary schools, is very important to children due to their higher inhalation rates per body mass, long time spent in schools, and higher sensitivity of children to environmental pollutants. Exposure to even low concentrations of air pollutants in schools leads to various health complaints, loss of productivity, effects on the academic performance and the mental stability of children. School classroom particles containing heavy metals adversely affect students’ memory potential." REF DX 2019. Dust analysis should be performed at least once and at least once a year if building or other changes are occurring around or nearby the school"


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Jeweller using saw to create jewellery

Metals encountered when working with jewellery. Many are especially harmful if not wearing a mask or using air suction equipment. Antimony; Cadmium; Chromium compounds; Copper compounds; Gold; Lead; Magnesium compounds; Manganese compounds; Mercury; Nickel compounds; Pewter; Platinum; Silver compounds; Stainless Steel; Tellurium; Tin compounds; Titanium; Zinc compounds. See Potentially Harmful Metalsmithing Substances and an important article - Dusts in the Jewelry Workshop


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Wind & Traffic generated Road Dust

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Dust from road sweeping

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Dust from road traffic

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Stardust of the Pleiades Star Cluster - by Martin Heigan 2019

"When you clean your house you are probably vacuuming up space dust. It is the same dust that was once part of comets and asteroids. You see that dust in the faint glow it helps create before sunrise and after sunset. As much as 40,000 tons of space dust arrives on Earth every year. Where does this dust comes from? Most of it, we know, spirals down from the interplanetary dust cloud, a vast swathe of dust extending in a disk-shape around the sun. Recent studies suggest that less than 10% of the dust comes from asteroids, but that a much larger portion originates from Jupiter-family comets. These comets, which are made up of ice and dust, orbit around the sun close to Jupiter. When space dust falls to Earth, depending on its size and abundance, it can produce a meteor shower (shooting stars)." Your house is full of space dust – it reveals the solar system’s story


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Australian Indigenous Art on Earth's Minerals
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Showing Dust test results that prioritise human health while showing potential local contamination

Results show total levels of each of the 32 Metals, Heavy Metals, Metalloids and Minerals in your DUST sample and are presented as milligrams of the element per kilogram dust (mg/kg). Dust samples are analysed by our Laboratory here in Australia via Total Acid (Aqua Regia) digest using - Inductively Coupled Plasma - Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) | Elements tested include -
Antimony (Sb), Silver (Ag), Arsenic (As), Lead (Pb), Cadmium (Cd), Chromium (Cr), Copper (Cu), Manganese (Mn), Nickel (Ni), Selenium (Se), Zinc (Zn), Mercury (Hg), Iron (Fe), Aluminium (Al), Lithium (Li), Beryllium (Be), Boron (B), Vanadium (V), Cobalt (Co), Strontium (Sr), Molybdenum (Mo), Barium (Ba), Thallium (TL), Bismuth (Bi), Thorium (Th), Uranium (U), Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), Potassium (K), Sodium (Na), Sulphur (S), Phosphorus (P)
There are no Australian Government guidelines for elemental concentrations in dust (even the toxic heavy metals). As such we have extensively researched the literature to find studies that have investigated normal and contaminated levels of metals and metalloids in household and workplace dust. This is an emerging field of research with much now known but much more to know. We have included the soil based guidelines with these results as a matter of comparison and interest and because more is known about soil and some government guidelines do exist. See a full description of how the soil guidelines and thresholds are established on the Soil page.
The primary purpose of having a dust test is to safeguard human and animal health. The presentation of the dust analysis results considers... Potential dust contamination from man-made sources, especially from the heavy metals of most concern to human health (Lead, Cadmium, Arsenic and Mercury) and heightened local natural geological background levels
Metals like Lead (Pb) remain a public health concern due to the absence of known effect thresholds, REF DU 2015. Children are more likely to be exposed to metals in settled dust because they exhibit more frequent hand-to-mouth contact. Our focus is to prioritise health by assessing exposures to metal concentrations in the settled dust in those environments where we spend the most time - classrooms, offices, home and workshops.
Additional exposure and health information is available in the blue links within each Metal/Mineral result.
Results are presented in a way that simply and visually shows the degree to which each individual element result is higher than a Precautionary Threshold Value (PTV) in addition to an Upper Threshold Value (UTV).
These Threshold Values are based on extensive and careful assessment of current and historic research, both locally and globally. In determining the PTV and the UTV for each element tested, we carefully considered the fine line between being too relaxed and too alarmist, particularly with regard to potential exposures to the highly toxic heavy metals.
Each element/heavy metal result has unique visual cues (Length and Colour of the result bar) and important and interesting Text-based Information. The longer the bar, the greater the result is above the PTV. The bar also changes colour from beige to red when your result is greater than the UTV. This is a trigger for potential man-made contamination, particularly for the heavy metals like Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, Mercury, Antimony, Aluminium, Chromium, Thorium, Uranium and even Manganese, Zinc and Nickel. This multifaceted approach to result presentation helps highlight potentially dangerous exposures and in making decisions whether to do nothing or to investigate further. This in turn helps to demarcate potential ongoing or historic man-made contamination from above average natural geological element levels.
Of benefit is simply asking neighbours and councils if natural geological levels of specific metals are elevated in your area or if industry, agriculture or mining has been or currently is present.
Dust and soil are inter-related as to their makeup of metals and metalloids. Yet they also have very different compositions, concentration enrichments and bio-accessibilities of these elements. The way people interact with soil and dust is different. Adults and especially children, touch and ingest potentially toxic metals (Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Arsenic and more) from dust and soil, yet dust can also be breathed in, leading to increased risk from exposure. Household dust and soil have distinct geochemical signatures and should not be treated as identical media in exposure and risk assessments.REF DP 2008
DUST REFERENCES

House-dust metal content and bioaccessibility: a review, DA 2010

Concentration of heavy metals in street dust: an implication of using different geochemical background data in estimating the level of heavy metal pollution, DB 2020

Human exposure and risk associated with trace element concentrations in indoor dust from Australian homes,
DC 2019

Heavy metals in indoor settled dusts in Toronto, Canada, DD 2014

Mechanisms of entry of lead-bearing dusts into house in Port Pirie, South Australia, DE 1998

Oral bioaccessibility of metal(loid)s in dust materials from mining areas of northern Namibia, DF 2019

Human exposure to toxic metals via contaminated dust: Bio-accumulation trends and their potential risk estimation, DG 2015

Potential harmful elements in coal dust and human health risk assessment near the mining areas in Cherat, Pakistan, DH 2018

Heavy Metals Composition of Indoor Dust in Nursery Schools Building, DJ 2012

Canadian House Dust Study: Population-based concentrations, loads and loading rates of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, nickel, lead, and zinc inside urban homes, DK 2013

Towards a holistic approach to the geochemistry of solid inorganicparticles in the urban environment, DL 2021

Elemental Contamination in Indoor Floor Dust and Its Correlation with PAHs, Fungi, and Gram+/− Bacteria, DM 2019

Biogeochemistry of Household Dust Samples Collected from Private Homes of a Portuguese Industrial City, DN 2020

Influence of Matrix Composition on the Bioaccessibility of Copper, Zinc, and Nickel in Urban Residential Dust and Soil, DP 2008

Managing Soil Contamination in parts of Lutana and Hobart’s eastern shore - Background paper, May 2009, DQ 2009

Influence of environmental zinc on the association between environmental and biological measures of lead in children, DR 2003

A review of heavy metals in indoor dust and its human health-risk implications, DS 2016

Lead and zinc concentrations in household dust and toenails of the residents (Estarreja, Portugal): a source-pathway-fate model, DT 2019

Exposure Assessment of Allergens and Metals in Settled Dust in French Nursery and Elementary Schools, DU 2015

Improved enrichment factor calculations through principal component analysis: Examples from soils near breccia pipe uranium mines, Arizona, USA, DV 2019

Zinc in House Dust: Speciation, Bioaccessibility, and Impact of Humidity, DW 2014

Risk Assessment and Implications of Schoolchildren Exposure to Classroom Heavy Metals Particles in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, DX 2019


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