SEGH Articles

DustSafe Citizen Science Study: Harmful contaminants in house dust

07 June 2019
Khadija Jabeen and Jane Entwistle Faculty of Engineering & Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK tell us about DustSafe, a global citizen-science project.

Household air pollution results in an estimated 4.25 million premature deaths globally each year (WHO, 2014), representing a significant, and growing contemporary public health challenge. The majority of these deaths are associated with fine particulate matter (PM), or ‘dust’, with PM declared a carcinogen by IARC in 2003. Exposure to PM can initiate or enhance disease in humans, yet the nature of the hazard that house dust presents remains poorly characterized from a toxicological and a source perspective (Moschet et al., 2018). As over 80% of the average day is spent in homes, workplaces and/or travel, indoor exposure to dust and its intrinsic physical, chemical and biological entities represents one of modern society’s greatest potential exposures to harmful substances (EPA,2015). Dust can penetrate deep into the lung and contain harmful agents, including metal(oids), microbes and other allergens. With reports of poor air quality regularly making headline news, the study of our indoor home biome (Fig. 1), has never been more timely or of mass popular interest and relevance.

Fig. 1 Components of the indoor biome

Fig. 1 Components of the indoor biome

House dust is an important environmental matrix due to its function as a repository of pollutants produced from various anthropogenic and biogenic processes. Such indoor dusts are a reservoir for toxic metal(oids), such as lead, cadmium and arsenic, many of which have been detected at environmentally relevant concentrations (Reis et al., 2018; Rasmussen et al., 2013), and recent studies highlight links between environmental pollutants in our house dusts and the health of children living in those homes (Kollitz et al. 2018).

Fig. 2 DustSafe citizen science promotional flyer

DustSafe is a global citizen-science project (Fig. 2) and a collaboration between a number of universities, including Northumbria University (UK), Macquarie University (Australia) and Indiana-Purdue University (USA). The aim is to provide a detailed understanding of the intrinsic characteristics and global variability of our indoor home dust biome, focusing on selected chemical, physical and biological characteristics and attendant hazards.

DustSafe needs YOU (well, actually it needs your dust)please register at the website ( and send us your vacuum cleaner dust, or bring a sample along to the Society for Environmental Geochemistry’s (SEGH) 35th International Conference in Manchester this year.

Sample your vacuum cleaner today and join DustSafe (Further details of what/how to sample available on the website). Look out for us at SEGH’s 35th International Conference in July this year where will be presenting initial UK results from this exciting citizen-led initiative. Contact Khadija Jabeen for more details (

                   Fig. 2 DustSafe citizen science promotional flyer


EPA 2015

Kollitz et al. 2018 ES&T 52:11857-64

Moschet et al. 2018 ES&T 52:2878–87

Rasmussen et al. 2013 Sci Total Environ 443:520–529

Reis et al. 2018 Environ Sci Process Impacts 20:1210–24

WHO 2014 Burden of disease from household air pollution

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Latest on-line papers from the SEGH journal: Environmental Geochemistry and Health

  • Soil contamination and human health: Part 1—preface 2020-01-27
  • The influence of application of biochar and metal-tolerant bacteria in polluted soil on morpho-physiological and anatomical parameters of spring barley 2020-01-27


    The paper presents the results of the model experiment on spring barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) grown in polluted soil. The influence of separate and combined application of wood biochar and heavy metal-tolerant bacteria on morpho-physiological, anatomical and ultrastructural parameters of H. vulgare L. has been studied. The joint application of biochar and bacteria increased the shoot length by 2.1-fold, root length by 1.7-fold, leaf length by 2.3-fold and dry weight by threefold compared to polluted variant, bringing the plant parameters to the control level. The maximal quantum yield of photosystem II decreased by 8.3% in H. vulgare L. grown in contaminated soil, whereas this decrease was less in biochar (7%), bacteria (6%) and in combined application of bacteria and biochar (5%). As for the transpiration rate, the H. vulgare L. grown in polluted soil has shown a decrease in transpiration rate by 26%. At the same time, the simultaneous application of biochar and bacteria has led to a significant improvement in the transpiration rate (14%). The H. vulgare L. also showed anatomical (integrity of epidermal, vascular bundles, parenchymal and chlorenchymal cells) and ultrastructural (chloroplasts, thylakoid system, plastoglobules, starch grains, mitochondria, peroxisomes, ribosomes, endoplasmic reticulum, vacuoles) changes, revealed by light-optical and transmission electron microscopy of leaf sections. The effects were most prominent in H. vulgare L., grown in polluted soil but gradually improved with application of biochar, bacteria and their combination. The use of biochar in combination with metal-tolerant bacteria is an efficient tool for remediation of soils, contaminated with heavy metals. The positive changes caused by the treatment can be consistently traced at all levels of plant organization.

  • Earthworms and vermicompost: an eco-friendly approach for repaying nature’s debt 2020-01-23


    The steady increase in the world’s population has intensified the need for crop productivity, but the majority of the agricultural practices are associated with adverse effects on the environment. Such undesired environmental outcomes may be mitigated by utilizing biological agents as part of farming practice. The present review article summarizes the analyses of the current status of global agriculture and soil scenarios; a description of the role of earthworms and their products as better biofertilizer; and suggestions for the rejuvenation of such technology despite significant lapses and gaps in research and extension programs. By maintaining a close collaboration with farmers, we have recognized a shift in their attitude and renewed optimism toward nature-based green technology. Based on these relations, it is inferred that the application of earthworm-mediated vermitechnology increases sustainable development by strengthening the underlying economic, social and ecological framework.

    Graphic abstract