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EPA-funded Study Will Measure Soil and Dust Ingestion Levels in US Children

Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health researchers will examine how much dust kids swallow and use the data to protect children from exposure.
Soil and dust ingestion by children can be a major source of exposure to chemicals such as lead, arsenic, pesticides and more.

EPA-funded Study Will Measure Soil and Dust Ingestion Levels in US Children

How much dust do children swallow? Researchers at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health will try to answer that question in Arizona as part of the Dust Ingestion Children Study, or DIRT, a national project funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Paloma Beamer, PhD, is a professor in the Zuckerman College of Public Health and leader of the Arizona DIRT research site.Young children may ingest significant quantities of soil and dust as they often play on the ground and put their hands and objects that may have dust or soil on them into their mouths. Soil and dust ingestion can be a major route of exposure to chemicals such as lead, arsenic, pesticides, flame retardants and perfluoroalkyl substances. As a result, the benchmark data for child dust and soil ingestion levels is vital for public health research and policy.

“The more we know about typical dirt and dust ingestion levels for children, the more we can do to protect them inside and outside the home,” said Paloma Beamer, PhD, Arizona DIRT research site lead and professor in the Zuckerman College of Public Health. “This new data will enable the EPA to make better risk estimates that can inform reduction and prevention measures.”

The project looks at inadvertent soil and dust ingestion levels in children across a range of environments both inside and outside the home. The goal is to establish new data benchmarks for the EPA’s Exposure Factors Handbook, which informs child health guidelines and regulations related to consumer products such as toys, pesticide registration and clean-up requirements for hazardous waste sites.

The study will use a combination of videotaping, dust sampling and behavior modeling to quantify how much dust winds up on the hands – and in the mouths – of children during their daily activities. Research teams will recruit families with children between the ages of 6 months and 6 years in different neighborhoods and communities. Additional families will participate in a survey about their children’s and household behaviors.

The grant, part of a larger national EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) study, has three research sites coordinated by North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University under the leadership of Alesia Ferguson, PhD, chair of the Built Environment Department and head of the Geomatics, Construction Management, and Environmental Health and Safety programs. Helena Solo-Gabriele, PhD, MS, professor of environmental engineering at the University of Miami, leads a Florida research site. Dr. Beamer will receive $435,000 in funding over three years to lead the Arizona site. 

The EPA STAR program aims to stimulate and support scientific and engineering research that advances EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment. The STAR program funds research on the environmental and public health effects of air quality, climate change, environmental justice, water quality and quantity, hazardous waste, toxic substances and pesticides.

“We are very pleased to be part of this EPA STAR grant,” said Zuckerman College of Public Health Dean Iman Hakim, MD, PhD, MPH. “Dr. Beamer brings exceptional knowledge and experience in this area of exposure science and this new research will inform the EPA’s national public health measures to help protect children. This work that will benefit millions of lives.”

The Dust Ingestion Children Study is currently recruiting families to participate. Information is available on the study website or via email at