Indoor spaces often contains harmful chemicals, say researchers who found high levels of toxic flame retardants in the dust of some U.S. college classrooms.
The chemicals have been linked to thyroid disease, infertility, decreased IQ, cancer and other health problems. They were released by furniture in the facilities.
When they get into dust, the chemicals can enter your body, according to the study authors.
“The coronavirus pandemic has revealed that indoor spaces have an enormous impact on people’s health,” said lead author Kathryn Rodgers, a staff scientist at Silent Spring Institute in Newton, Mass.
“It’s critical that we find ways to reduce harmful exposures and create the healthiest indoor environments we can,” she added in an institute news release.
Rodgers and her colleagues collected dust from classrooms and lecture halls on four college campuses in New England. Some had older, outdated standards for furniture flammability, which meant that their furniture had large amounts of flame retardants. Others met the more recent updated standard, called TB117-2013, which allows for furniture free of toxic chemicals.
The researchers detected 43 types of flame retardants in the dust samples. They found variations based on the flammability standards at the different schools.
Overall, flame retardant levels were significantly higher in spaces with outdated standards than in those with the newer standard, the study found.
In classrooms with older standards, levels of a phased-out flame retardant and its replacement (BDE 209 and DBDPE) were three and eight times higher, respectively, than the highest levels previously reported in indoor spaces in the United States, the researchers noted.
The team also detected the carcinogen TDCIPP and a similar flame retardant called TCIPP in rooms with the newer standard, likely due to the chemicals’ widespread use in materials such as plastics, rubber and textiles.
“This is an important study and the first to evaluate the impact of the new TB117-2013 standard on flame retardant levels in dust,” Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute, said in the release. “It shows that updating an obscure fire standard leads to lower levels of harmful flame retardants and healthier indoor spaces.”
The study was published Sept. 3 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.
The U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has more on flame retardants.
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