The Home Biome Project (DUST). DUsty SecreTs: characterising, communicating and connecting the hidden world within our homes.

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University
Department Name: Fac of Engineering and Environment


We typically spend over 80% of the day inside, yet our indoor environments are still poorly understood. Household air pollution results in an estimated 4.25 million premature deaths globally each year (World Health Organisation, 2014), representing a significant public health challenge.

Indoor dust sources include outdoor particles brought inside on clothes, footwear, pets or by the wind, and from cooking, smoking, and wear and tear of soft furnishings. Chemicals from home sources such as cleaning products, pesticides and flame retardants can attach to house dust. There is evidence of interaction between the chemical components of our house dust and the biological components, and we want to explore these relationships further.

When we breathe in, dusts can penetrate deep into our lungs, and potentially harmful components (metals, organic substances, microbes and other allergens) can transfer into our blood and to other parts of the body. The resulting health effects include increased incidences of strokes, Alzheimer's, lung disease, heart disease and cancer.

A 'biome' is a community of organisms in a specific environment. This project will shine a spotlight on our home biome, investigating chemicals in house dust and home air quality, revealing similarities and differences between different regions and households around the world. We will also explore the interaction of our house dust with our indoor microbiome and the occurrence of antimicrobial resistant genes. The Home Biome project 'DUST' will be a collaboration between households and scientists from across the world.

The project will establish an online Dust Atlas to present our anonymised findings and increase awareness of our indoor environments. Participants will be able to submit samples of their own house vacuum dust for analysis and receive individual household reports to compare with data in the on-line Dust Atlas. Participants currently involved in long-term studies of their health will also be invited to participate. Here the dust data may progress understanding of relationships between indoor environments and health.

The DUST project has four main aims:
(1) to establish on online Dust Atlas of components in our indoor dusts, and in doing so develop a resource that allows citizens and other project participants to understand their household dust data at local, regional, national and even global scales,
(2) to investigate the relationship between antimicrobial resistance and the metal concentrations in our house dusts to see if common pollutants in our homes may be supporting/mediating increased microbial resistance,
(3) to carry out indoor air quality monitoring of selected homes to look at how various indicators of air quality vary over timescales of days to weeks, and differences resulting from house design, cooking and heating fuel type and use frequency, ventilation methods and locations, and
(4) given recent studies highlighting links between environmental pollutants in our house dusts and conditions such as obesity and asthma, to explore the potential of using citizen-collected household vacuum dusts to provide useful supplementary data as part of existing long-term health-focused family studies.
The DUST website will communicate to public audiences, as well as scientists and policy-makers, through interactive web-based maps, charts, discussions and other links.

As well as providing evidence for national and international regulatory agencies to inform risk management decisions, the Home Biome project (DUST) will enable citizens to change behaviours and reduce health risks by suggesting practical actions to improve household and community indoor environmental quality.

Planned Impact

Knowledge arising from the proposed research will have both academic and non-academic impacts. This project has practical and socio-economic benefits and we identify 4 key stakeholder groups as a means to target and focus our plans to build impact that will last beyond the life of the initial project. Each stakeholder group is explicitly targeted as set out in our 'pathways to impact' section.

IMPACT ON STAKEHOLDER GROUP 1: individual citizens and participant 'citizen-scientists'
The online Dust Atlas, database and ancillary supporting information will enable participants to interactively view the levels of potentially harmful elements in indoor dusts across participating regions, and crucially the range of possible actions they can take to reduce their household exposure and risk. The website will be a tool to support increased environmental health literacy of global citizens. In addition, the project engages directly with residents, initially across the UK (given the funding and PP links to UK longitudinal cohort studies) but with the longer term ambition of internationally. Participants will receive bespoke information about their households dust composition and advice and practical recommendations of 'what to do next'.
EXPECTED IMPACT: by building a strong foundation to engage citizens with the science of indoor dust the project will empower citizen participants leading to increased awareness of environmental health issues and proportionate behavioural change

IMPACT ON STAKEHOLDER GROUP 2: Academics/Researchers
Scientists, particularly those working in the fields of environmental health and exposure science, but also social scientists with an interest in environmental justice and vulnerable groups (e.g. those in long-term care; migrants and other marginalised groups), will benefit from the proposed research through the data and insights generated (e.g. regional baseline data, new insights into the relationship between metal(oids) and AMR in indoor dusts, identification of 'hot-spots' of contamination, spatially or linked to underlying meta-data). Collaborations established with longitudinal cohort studies will enable research to investigate aggregate exposures to neurotoxins such as lead and manganese, and other chemicals with links to health impacts. A training event, demonstrating the portable indoor air pollution monitoring kits to be deployed as part of the project, and provide training on their use and application, data collection, data retrieval and data analyses, will further facilitate capacity building in the scientific community.
EXPECTED IMPACT: expanded research collaborations; wider utilisation/citation of the project research findings/recommendations.

IMPACT ON STAKEHOLDER GROUP 3: Regulators, policy makers and related organisations
Data from this project will be used by national and international regulatory agencies (such as to assist in the development of dust screening concentrations), and by planners and health authorities, to inform risk management decision-making by pointing to practical interventions that will improve indoor environmental quality.
ANTICIPATED LONGER-TERM IMPACT: changes in environmental and/or planning policies and regulation; incorporation of indoor dust monitoring as a standard environmental health metric and inclusion in national longitudinal studies.

Generated data will be of relevance to: i) instrument manufacturers and environmental consultancies with an interest in developing/modifying dust collecting and monitoring equipment and analysis protocols, ii) construction businesses, housing associations, social enterprises, architects, planners, developers, who may undertake interventions as a result of negative indoor dust assessments.
ANTICIPATED LONGER-TERM IMPACT: SMEs and other groups reporting changes in practice or innovations as a consequence of the project.


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