Open Access Analytic perspective

Carpet-dust chemicals as measures of exposure: Implications of variability

Todd P Whitehead1*, John R Nuckols2, Mary H Ward3 and Stephen M Rappaport1

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Environmental Health Sciences, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA

2 Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA

3 Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, Bethesda, MD, USA

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Emerging Themes in Epidemiology 2012, 9:2  doi:10.1186/1742-7622-9-2

Published: 23 March 2012



There is increasing interest in using chemicals measured in carpet dust as indicators of chemical exposures. However, investigators have rarely sampled dust repeatedly from the same households and therefore little is known about the variability of chemical levels that exist within and between households in dust samples.


We analyzed 9 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, 6 polychlorinated biphenyls, and nicotine in 68 carpet-dust samples from 21 households in agricultural communities of Fresno County, California collected from 2003-2005. Chemical concentrations (ng per g dust) ranged from < 2-3,609 for 9 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, from < 1-150 for 6 polychlorinated biphenyls, and from < 20-7,776 for nicotine. We used random-effects models to estimate variance components for concentrations of each of these carpet-dust chemicals and calculated the variance ratio, λ, defined as the ratio of the within-household variance component to the between-household variance component. Subsequently, we used the variance ratios calculated from our data, to illustrate the potential effect of measurement error on the attenuation of odds ratios in hypothetical case-control studies. We found that the median value of the estimated variance ratios was 0.33 (range: 0.13-0.72). Correspondingly, in case-control studies of associations between these carpet-dust chemicals and disease, given the collection of only one measurement per household and a hypothetical odds ratio of 1.5, we expect that the observed odds ratios would range from 1.27 to 1.43. Moreover, for each of the chemicals analyzed, the collection of three repeated dust samples would limit the expected magnitude of odds ratio attenuation to less than 20%.


Our findings suggest that attenuation bias should be relatively modest when using these semi-volatile carpet-dust chemicals as exposure surrogates in epidemiologic studies.