But the dust that coats your television sets may answer why virtually every American tested has traces of a chemical flame retardant that may be harmful.
The flame retardants have been used for decades in television sets, computer-wire insulation, mattress stuffing, carpet padding and many other common household products. They have been found in household dust, but no one has been able to say how they got there and from what products.
A study by researchers at Boston University's School of Public Health appears to have pinpointed the largest source of chemical flame retardants as the dust on television sets.
Using a portable X-ray device, researchers sampled 19 Boston-area homes and found large volumes of the flame retardants in television dust.
One theory is that when the television heats up, the flame retardants in the TV vaporize into a gas, eventually settling into the dust in the air and on bookshelves, floors and appliances.
"I think this link between the flame retardants and dust in TVs is a really big deal," said Tom Webster, a Boston University epidemiologist who led the study.
That's true, in part, because millions of television sets are expected to be discarded in February when television broadcasts switch to digital signals, resulting in a much greater volume of flame retardants contaminating the environment. The flame retardants take decades to break down, and they have been shown to travel great distances in the air and water.
© 2008 The Seattle Times