Why buying a home from a smoker increases YOUR chance of cancer: Third-hand smoke can linger in carpets, curtains and walls for months
- Children and those with underlying health conditions are most vulnerable
- Harmful residue of cigarette smoke is absorbed into any porous surface
- Researchers said homes are 'reservoirs of tobacco smoke pollutants'
- Cleaning or painting over surfaces does not contain harmful compounds
Published: 10:36 BST, 4 January 2016 | Updated: 12:12 BST, 4 January 2016
Buying a home from a smoker can increase the risk of cancer as toxic chemicals remain in carpets, curtains, walls and furniture indefinitely, a new study has warned.
Researchers found the so-called third-hand smoke is a serious threat to health - especially in young children and those with underlying health conditions.
They discovered the harmful residue of cigarette smoke can be absorbed into virtually any porous surface, making it difficult to eradicate it from the home.
It means people can be exposed to dangerous chemicals caused by smoking, even if they have never smoked themselves.
Children are the most vulnerable as they touch carpets and walls which are home to 'third-hand' smoke
Dr Georg Matt, a psychologist at San Diego State University leading the study, has been looking into the effects of third-hand smoke for the past 20 years.
The study looked at third-hand smoke in different environments where people could come into contact with the lasting effects of smoke including rental housing units, newly bought homes, rental cars, hotel rooms and casinos.
'Homes become reservoirs of tobacco smoke pollutants,' he said.
'These volatile compounds soak into the drywall. Gypsum is like a bottomless pit for these toxins. Carpets are tremendous reservoirs.'
The latest research followed an earlier study which found nicotine by-products could still be detected in the children of mothers who were former smokers.
Dr Matt found children's behaviour of touching and exploring everything and putting non-food items in their mouths was a major factor in exposing them to dangerous chemicals.
'Hands are sampling devices of surface in our immediate environment,' he said.
Third-hand smoke residue can be seen round the home causing the yellowing of walls and the researchers say chemical residue can be absorbed into pretty much any porous surface, then leaches out over time.
WHERE CHEMICALS CAN LINGER
Harmful residue from tobacco smoke was found in parts of the home including:
Environmental chemist Dr Eunha Hoh, who took part in the study, said: 'Cigarette smoke is known to contain thousands of chemicals, and these chemicals get deposited onto surfaces.
'A great many of them are known to be toxic and carcinogenic. The levels of these chemicals may be quite low in third-hand smoke residue, but they are dangerous when you have chronic exposure.'
They found the longer the chemicals hang around in their environment, they can undergo further chemical reactions that turn otherwise innocuous compounds into harmful ones.
As part of their research they also found a link between third-hand smoke and the presence of 'extremely hazardous' carcinogenic compounds known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs.
These increase cancer risk and also trigger asthma attacks and eye, lung and throat irritation. They can also interfere with wound-healing and cause cardiovascular problems.
Environmental health scientist Dr Penelope Quintana says simply dusting or vacuuming doesn't get rid of the danger, either.
Harmful tobacco residue is absorbed by porous surfaces and cannot be easily cleaned off, a new study found
And even painting over residue-stained walls is not enough to contain these compounds.
She said: 'We were really surprised by how persistent the contamination is in the home, even months after people have stopped smoking in it.'
The researchers say those most at risk are young children as they are more likely put their hands and other objects in their mouths, and because they spend more time low to the ground where house dust accumulates in carpets.
However even more vulnerable are children in lower-income families, who are more likely to move frequently and live in rented homes where there is a greater likelihood that previous inhabitants smoked.
Now the researchers plan to recruit more than 200 low-income homes to offer a variety of cleaning services from dusting to professional deep cleaning.
Dr Hoh added: 'There are no real known solutions for cleaning up third-hand smoke. We need to find a way to get rid of it.'