Beware the lingering toxins

Are you as healthy as you should be? Probably not if someone in your family or household is unknowingly leaving certain lingering toxins in your home.

While you may be aware of the health dangers of secondhand tobacco smoke, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have found that thirdhand smoke, toxins that linger behind for hours even after smokers have finished smoking, may exact a serious health toll on those who come into contact with them or breathe them in.

The study shows that these toxins can still be harmful for at least 18 hours after a cigarette has been extinguished. And these chemicals can be released from indoor surfaces and a smoker’s clothing.

“In the U.S., the home is now where nonsmokers are most exposed to second- and thirdhand smoke,” says researcher Hugo Destaillats. “The amount of harm is measurable even several hours after smoking ends.”

The research shows that more than 50 toxic substances can contaminate an indoor space and be absorbed by others in a room where a smoker has been.

“Many smokers know secondhand smoke is harmful, so they don’t smoke when their kids are present,” says Destaillats. “But if, for example, they stop smoking at 2 p.m. and the kids come home at 4 p.m., our work shows that up to 60 percent of the harm from inhaling thirdhand smoke remains.”

The researchers are currently trying to better understand the health harms that can be linked to thirdhand smoke as distinguished from the problems caused by secondhand smoke.

“A lot of the harm attributed to secondhand smoke could be due to thirdhand smoke,” says researcher Lara Gundel. “Because there’s a gradual transition from one to the other, we don’t really know yet what the chronic effects of thirdhand smoke are.”



Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.