1
1
Fr
Into the material world

We typically specify materials in terms of properties—texture, integrity, assembly—which, once classified and catalogued, are perceived as static and reliable. But the attitudes, understandings, and fashions that influence how we measure a material’s value are fickle, so the ways we define and relate to a material are also an evaluation of our own contingent cultural values. Materials are not anonymous, they are not (only) abstractions, and they are not just what you build with. The stories in this issue are stories of unanticipated consequences, misguided optimisms, everyday hypocrisies, and untapped possibilities. By excavating the immaterial and tangential implications of use we trace the power of a material to calibrate our relationships, be they distant or intimate, with the world.

Article 3 of 8

Not (Only) Dead Skin

Samples from the Canadian House Dust Study

Pat E. Rasmussen. Samples from the Canadian House Dust Study, 2007–2010

The Canadian House Dust Study,1 a research program by Health Canada, was conducted over four winters from 2007 to 2010 in thirteen cities with populations greater than one hundred thousand people, sampling a total of 1,025 individual houses. Studying airborne particles—dust—reveals how certain pollutants pass from their sources, via the environment, into the human body. House dust is a mix of fibres, paint, building materials, hair, mould, pollen, bacteria, viruses, insect parts, skin flakes, ash, soot, minerals, and other soil particles; its composition varies widely, depending on the age of a house, its architectural design and materials, its proximity to industrial or vehicular pollution, its methods of heating and cooking, its levels of temperature and humidity, its air exchange rates, and its climate. Equally important are the consumer choices and habits of the occupants. When compared to outdoor street dust samples, house dust collected from inside the average urban home showed higher concentrations of metals, including lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), and antimony (Sb).

The following photomicrographs were collected by Michael Woldemichael, one of the researchers on the project.


  1. The study was conducted by Pat E. Rasmussen (Principal Investigator), Michael Woldemichael and André Lalonde (mineralogy), Christine Levesque, Marc Chénier, and Monique Lanouette (sample preparation and chemical analysis), H. David Gardner (informatics), and Water and Earth Science Associates Inc. (recruitment and sampling). 

House dust sample H07TB026, between 2007 and 2010. Field of view 1. mm, 20 μm wide.
Chemistry of sample: Ca 5.04%, Al 1.63%, Na 1.55%, Fe 1.31%, Mg 0.70%, K 0.58%, Pb 136 ppm

House characteristics (H07TB026)

Year home built: 1910
Total area of home: 102 m2
Number of stories: 2
Basement: yes
Setting: urban (suburb)
Floor types: carpet
Heating type: forced air (gas)
Renovations in past year: yes
Type of renovation: ripped out and renovated master bedroom and guest room

Read more

House dust sample H07BA054, between 2007 and 2010. Field of view 0.55 mm.
Chemistry of sample: Ca 6.67%, Al 3.57%, Fe 2.85%, Na 2.34%, K 1.34%, Mg 1.20%, Pb 83.3 ppm

House characteristics (H07BA054)

Year home built: 1976
Total area of home: 167 m2
Number of stories: 2
Basement: yes
Setting: urban (suburb)
Floor types: vinyl, carpet
Heating type: fireplace (electric)
Renovations in past year: yes
Type of renovation: installed laminate floor in basement, painted all but two rooms, insulated crawl space

House dust sample H07CA012, between 2007 and 2010. Field of view 0.55 mm.
Chemistry of sample: Ca 11.10%, Mg 3.44%, Al 1.59%, Fe 1.20%, Na 0.82%, K 0.70%, Pb 2,250 ppm

House characteristics (H07CA012)

Year home built: 1874
Total area of home: 204 m2
Number of stories: 2
Basement: yes
Setting: urban centre
Floor types: carpet, hardwood
Heating type: forced air (fuel)
Renovations in past year: yes
Type of renovation: painting and wall stripping

House dust sample H07HM006, between 2007 and 2010. Field of view 0.55 mm.
Chemistry of sample: Ca 6.91%, Na 2.16%, Al 1.53%, Mg 1.19%, Fe 1.02%, K 0.68%, Pb 125 ppm

House characteristics (H07HM006)

Year home built: 1950
Total area of home: 93 m2
Number of stories: 1
Basement: yes
Setting: urban
Floor types: carpet
Heating type: forced air (gas)
Renovations in past year: yes
Type of renovation: painted whole house three years ago

House dust sample H07SU026, between 2007 and 2010.
Chemistry of sample: Ca 4.11%, Na 1.80%, Fe 1.07%, Al 1.06%, K 0.80%, Mg 0.52%, Pb 171 ppm

House characteristics (H07SU026)

Year home built: 1953
Total area of home: 112 m2
Number of stories: 1
Basement: yes
Setting: urban (suburb)
Floor types: hardwood, carpet
Heating type: fireplace (gas), forced air (gas)
Renovations in past year: yes
Type of renovation: painted kitchen

House dust sample H07BU055, between 2007 and 2010. Field of view 1.1 mm.
Chemistry of sample: Ca 11.90%, Mg 2.88%, Al 1.72%, Na 1.53%, Fe 1.46%, K 0.67%, Pb 58.1 ppm

House characteristics (H07BU055)

Year home built: 2001
Total area of home: 221 m2
Number of stories: 2
Basement: no
Setting: rural and urban (suburb)
Floor types: hardwood, carpet, other
Heating type: fireplace (gas), forced air (gas)
Renovations in past year: yes
Type of renovation: painted spare bedroom

Samples from the Canadian House Dust Study were exhibited in our 2011 exhibition Imperfect Health.

1
1

Sign up to get news from us

Email address
First Name
Last Name

Thank you for signing up. You'll begin to receive emails from us shortly.

We’re not able to update your preferences at the moment. Please try again later.

You’ve already subscribed with this email address. If you’d like to subscribe with another, please try again.

Folder ()

Your folder is empty.

Email:
Subject:
Notes:
Your contact information
First name:
Last name:
Email:
Phone number:
Notes (Optional):
We will contact you to set up an appointment. Please keep in mind that your consultation date will be based on the type of material you wish to study. To prepare your visit, we'll need:
  • — At least one week for primary sources (prints and drawings, photographs, archival documents, etc.)
  • — At least twenty-four hours for secondary sources (books, periodicals, vertical files, etc.)
...