chemical exposureThirty years ago a flame retardant called chlorinated tris was used on children’s clothing. The flame retardant was removed from the market, but it continues to be used in polyurethane foam often found in office buildings. A recent study from the Boston University School of Public Health found traces of the chemical in urine samples of office workers with traces of the chemical found in 99% of dust samples collected.

Researchers worked with 31 adults living and working in Boston. The participants worked in both older and newer office buildings in the city. Older buildings tended to have higher concentrations of chlorinated tris than newer office buildings. This result was paralleled in participant urine samples, which were taken during working hours. Chlorinated tris metabolizes quickly thus environmental concentrations are reflected in real-time urine samples.

Chlorinated tris is associated with reduced semen quality. This could mean that male workers with the highest concentrations of the chemical in urine samples could suffer infertility issues.

The chemical is also listed as a possible carcinogen by the state of California. The chemical can be absorbed through the intestinal tract and skin contact. In theory, workers in environments with high concentrations of chlorinated tris carry the dust out of the office on their skin and later deposited in automobiles and in the home. Additional research is needed into the source of the chemical and the possible health implications for those in direct and indirect contact with the chemical.

According to Courtney Carignan, a doctoral student and study co-author, “It is currently very difficult to avoid flame retardants. Hopefully, better options will become available in the near future," said Courtney Carignan, a doctoral candidate in environmental health who co-authored the study. "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.”

Source: Courtney Carignan, Michael McClean, Alicia Fraser, Wendy Heiger-Bernays, Thomas Webster, Deborah Watkins, Ellen Cooper, Heather Stapleton. Boston University School of Public Health and Duke University.