Hands Spread Flame Retardants, Plasticizers

April 08, 2019
Hundreds of everyday items, from furniture to cell phones to floor wax, contain organophosphate ester (OPE) flame retardants and plasticizers. Some of these semi-volatile compounds make their way into the air, onto surfaces and even inside our bodies, with uncertain health effects. Researchers at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Spring 2019 National Meeting & Exposition reported that hands play a central role in transferring OPEs and other flame retardants and plasticizers throughout the indoor environment.
Increasingly, manufacturers have relied on OPEs to replace brominated flame retardants, some of which were banned or heavily restricted because of health concerns. However, a few recent epidemiological studies have linked the replacements themselves to adverse health effects. “The toxicity of OPEs is not well understood,” says Miriam Diamond, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator. “Studies are emerging that associate some OPEs with developmental effects in kids, fertility problems and possibly some types of cancer.”
Previous studies have found relatively high concentrations of OPEs in indoor air and dust. However, the sources of these compounds were not always clear. “We wondered if electronic devices, especially those that heat up during use, such as computers or printers, might be important sources of flame retardants and plasticizers,” says Diamond, who is at the University of Toronto.
To find out, the researchers collected about 400 samples from the homes of 51 Canadian women enrolled in the Ontario Environment Health Study. These included urine samples and hand wipes from the women, surface wipes of their electronic devices, and air and dust samples. The team used mass spectrometry to determine the concentrations of 23 different OPEs in the wipes and eight OPE metabolites in urine.
To the researchers’ surprise, all indoor surfaces had similar chemical profiles, and larger electronic devices that heat up had no higher OPE levels than handheld devices. “We went into this study expecting to find that surface wipes of different electronic devices would have elevated levels of one or a few flame retardants and plasticizers that were added to their casings during the manufacturing process,” Diamond says. “Instead, we found that most of the OPEs, and other flame retardants and plasticizers, were in most of the surface wipes, floor dust and on participants’ hands, as well as on the electronic devices. In other words, we found most of the chemicals everywhere.”
Another unexpected result was that the level of OPEs on the surface wipes of cell phones predicted about 25 percent of the variability in urine levels of OPE metabolites –– suggesting that cell phones might be major sources of internalized OPEs, or perhaps they accumulate the compounds from other sources. When people use their cell phones (which most people touch hundreds or even thousands of times per day), they ingest the compounds or absorb them through their skin.
More recently, the researchers conducted a network analysis to find correlations among the chemical profiles they identified from all of the samples. They found that regardless of which group of chemicals they examined, hands were at the center of the network. “We believe that hands are central to moving chemicals around the indoor environment,” Diamond says. “This makes intuitive sense –– your hands touch everything. It’s also consistent with how infectious organisms can be spread by hands that touch multiple surfaces.”
Is there anything a person can do to minimize their exposure to flame retardants and plasticizers? “Yes, wash your hands!” Diamond says. “Also, wash your cell phone and other handheld electronic devices.” She adds that parents should be careful about giving cell phones to small children, who often put their hands in their mouths and also gnaw on and lick objects rather than using them in the intended manner. “We didn’t collect any data on kids’ exposures,” she says, “but it’s obvious that our results could hold insights into pathways of exposure for them.”
The researchers acknowledged support and funding from Health Canada, Canada’s Chemicals Management PlanNatural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Cancer Society.
Free Amazon HD 10 Tablet with RCRA and DOT Training
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Video Helps Prevent Emergency Responders’ Occupational Drug Exposure
This video will help emergency responders understand the risks and communicate what they can do to protect themselves from exposure to illicit drugs. It shows what happens when an officer is exposed to illicit drugs like fentanyl and provides recommendations on how other officers and responders can prevent it from happening to them. NIOSH developed this video in collaboration with the Fredericksburg, Virginia police and fire departments.
Remington Arms Cited for 27 Safety and Health Violations After Amputation at New York Manufacturing Plant
OSHA has cited Remington Arms Company LLC – based in Madison, North Carolina – for 27 violations of workplace safety and health standards after an employee’s fingertip was amputated while working on a broaching machine at its Ilion, New York, manufacturing plant. The arms manufacturer faces $210,132 in penalties.
OSHA inspectors found numerous safety violations, including lack of machine guarding and exposures to electrical, chemical, ladder, tripping, crushing, and struck-by hazards. The company was also cited for several health violations, including failing to conduct atmospheric testing in confined spaces, monitor lead exposure levels, implement a hearing conservation program, provide first-aid training and appropriate protective clothing for employees working with corrosive chemicals, protect employees from exposure to cadmium, and label hazardous chemicals containers.
"The violations identified exposed employees to serious and potentially life-threatening injuries," said OSHA Syracuse Area Director Jeffrey Prebish. "Employers can minimize workplace dangers by conducting required job hazard analyses."
The citations can be viewed herehere, and here.
NIOSH Apps for a Safe Workplace
Workplace safety and health information can be carried in your pocket, with free apps from NIOSH. Android and iPhone apps available to help with everything from ladder safety to measuring sound levels, chemical hazards to safety information for working in hot environments, and many more. Visit the App Store or Google Play to download them for free. You can find the apps at: https://go.usa.gov/xEw6J.
Roofing Contractor Cited for Exposing Employees to Fall Hazards
OSHA has cited Florida Roofing Experts Inc. for exposing employees to fall hazards at a Jacksonville, Florida, worksite. The company faces the maximum penalty allowed of $132,598.
OSHA initiated the inspection as part of the Agency's Regional Emphasis Program on Falls in Construction after inspectors saw employees performing residential roofing activities without fall protection. OSHA cited the roofing contractor for failing to provide fall protection for employees working at heights up to 13 feet.
"Implementing OSHA’s safety standards can help protect employees from risk of serious or fatal injuries." said OSHA Jacksonville Area Director Michelle Gonzalez. "Employers have an obligation to provide personal protective equipment for their workers to prevent from falls from height."
Noise Standards and Hearing Loss Prevention Is Topic of April 16 CONN-OSHA Roundtable
The Connecticut Department of Labor’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CONN-OSHA) will cover noise standards and preventing hearing loss at its April 16 Breakfast Roundtable Discussion Group to be held 8:15 to 9:45 a.m. at the agency’s Wethersfield office, 200 Folly Brook Boulevard.
“Make OSHA’s Noise Standard Your Business,” will be presented by Deborah Pease, MPH and epidemiologist with the Connecticut Department of Public Health’s Environmental and Occupational Health’s Assessment Team, and Anne Bracker, MPH, Certified Industrial Hygienist, and CONN-OSHA Occupational Hygienist.
“Attendees will learn about the federal noise standard and how to use these guidelines to develop a customized hearing conservation program that meets their specific business needs,” explained John Able, CONN-OSHA Occupational Safety Training Specialist and roundtable project coordinator.
“Noise-induced hearing loss is a growing health issue among young adults and older Americans.” Able noted. “Nationwide, there are 48 million people with hearing loss, yet noise-induced hearing loss is 100 percent preventable.”
Able added that the Connecticut Young Worker Health and Safety Team – of which Pease is the chair – had made great progress in educating teens, teachers and employers about the issue of hearing loss. Bracker, who also has extensive experience in this subject, helps smaller businesses identify and control workplace hazards and prevent work-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities.
Admission to the breakfast is free, but pre-registration is required. Please contact Able at john.able@ct.gov to register or for additional information.
Researchers Explore Link Between Metal Exposure and Parkinson’s Symptoms
A new study from Iowa State University biomedical researchers illuminates the biological processes by which exposure to some metals can contribute to the onset of Parkinson’s-like symptoms.
The study, published today in the peer-reviewed journal Science Signaling, focuses on the metal manganese, which has a range of industrial uses as an alloy. Anumantha Kanthasamy, a Clarence Hartley Covault Distinguished Professor in veterinary medicine and the Eugene and Linda Lloyd Endowed Chair of Neurotoxicology, said the research details how manganese exposure can lead to misfolded proteins in the brain, which cause a neurological disease. Kanthasamy said the findings could lead to earlier detection of the disease and better outcomes for patients.
Kanthasamy said small amounts of manganese are necessary for the proper functioning of the human body, but too much exposure has been linked with neurological symptoms much like those experienced by patients with Parkinson’s Disease. Links between manganese and neurological disorders have been noted since the 1950s, Kanthasamy said, because of the tendency of manganese to accumulate in brain tissues.
The latest study found that manganese combines with a protein in the brain called alpha- synuclein. Previous studies showed the protein was susceptible to misfolding, but Kanthasamy and his colleagues set out to discover how it interacted with manganese and how that interaction facilitates the progression of disease. The researchers found the pathological form of misfolded alpha-synuclein proteins get packaged into vesicles, which allow the misfolded proteins to transfer from cell to cell to propagate the protein-seeding activity. These vesicles provoke inflammation of tissues and can lead to a neurodegenerative response, the study found.
The study drew on data gathered from mice as well as blood serum samples from welders provided by clinicians at Penn State University. The study found welders exposed to manganese had increased misfolded alpha-synuclein serum content, meaning the welders are at a higher risk for developing Parkinson’s symptoms, Kanthasamy said.
The research could contribute to a new assay, or medical test, to detect the presence of misfolded alpha-synuclein proteins. This could lead to earlier detection of Parkinson’s Disease and a way to gauge the effectiveness of drugs designed to slow the disease.
“As the disease advances, it’s harder to slow it down with treatments,” Kanthasamy said. “Earlier detection, perhaps by testing for misfolded alpha-synuclein, can lead to better outcomes for patients. Such a test might also indicate whether someone is at risk before the onset of the disease.”
Kanthasamy cautioned the research is still at an experimental stage, meaning it could be years before such an assay could be available.
Dilshan S. Harischandra, a former member of Kanthasamy’s lab who now works at the University of Pennsylvania, was the lead author of the study. Kanthasmy, chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences in the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine, was the senior author of the study. The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
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