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Offices Are Major Source of Flame Retardant Exposure

By Erin Weaver
October 15, 2012

Offices can be a significant source of exposure to brominated flame retardants, according to a study in Environmental Health Perspectives.

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The authors of “Exposure to PBDEs in the Office Environment” tested office dust in eight Boston buildings, along with handwipes and blood samples from workers, for polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a group of persistent, bioaccumulative toxic chemicals that have long been used as flame retardants in furniture, carpet, plastics, and electronics. Of its three main forms, pentaBDE and octaBDE are no longer manufactured or used in the U.S., but the authors found components of pentaBDE in the majority of blood samples, while components of these and decaBDE (which is still being phased out) were found in nearly all dust samples and handwipes.

Overall, workers in offices with the highest concentrations of pentaBDE in dust samples had more than twice as much on their hands as those in other offices, but more hand-washing correlated with lower blood concentrations: workers who washed their hands the least had more than three times as much pentaBDE on their hands and three times as much in their blood as those who washed their hands frequently.

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