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Office Workers May Face Exposure to Flame Retardant

WEDNESDAY, March 27 (HealthDay News) -- A potentially harmful flame retardant is present in the bodies of many office workers, a small new study says.

Researchers assessed 31 Boston-area residents for the presence of chlorinated tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCPP). The flame retardant's use in children's pajamas was halted 30 years ago, but it is found in polyurethane foam used in upholstered furniture.

TDCPP was found in many of the urine samples from the office workers. The chemical was also found in 99 percent of dust samples collected from the workers' offices, homes and vehicles, according to the study.

The findings reveal "the widespread presence of this flame retardant in the indoor environment," the researchers wrote in the May issue of the journal Environment International.

The office environment was the strongest predictor of having TDCPP in the body. Workers in a new office buildings had significantly lower concentrations of the chemical in their urine than those in older buildings, and the average concentration of the flame retardant in dust was significantly lower in new buildings than in older buildings.

The lower levels of TDCPP in new buildings could be due to factors such as more efficient ventilation systems or cleaning methods, the researchers said, or perhaps the newer furniture in the building did not contain TDCPP or there hadn't been enough time for it to migrate out of the furniture.

The researchers noted that urine samples were collected during the workday and that TDCPP is quickly metabolized by the body. This may explain the stronger link between the presence of the chemical in the body and the office environment, compared to the workers' homes or vehicles.

"It is currently very difficult to avoid flame retardants. Hopefully, better options will become available in the near future," study co-author Courtney Carignan, a doctoral candidate in environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health, said in a school news release. "Currently, the best advice we have for people is to wash your hands, especially before eating. Dust control, good ventilation and air purifiers may also be useful for reducing personal exposure."

In 2011, California added TDCPP to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer, according to the news release. Previous research has suggested that TDCPP is readily absorbed through the skin and gastrointestinal tract and may have harmful effects on the brain and nervous system and on men's fertility and thyroid function.

More information

The Natural Resources Defense Council has more about TDCPP.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Boston University Medical Center, news release, March 25, 2013

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