Phosphate flame retardants or PFRs are added to many consumer products made with plastics, textiles, and resins in order to reduce flammability. The results of a new study, then, may be disheartening, but they are hardly surprising. Researchers found six toxic flame retardants in both the homes and more alarmingly in the bodies of 16 California residents.

“This study provides a glimpse at biological levels of an extended set of PFRs in California residents,” wrote the authors, “…and shows relationships with household dust levels for some participants, indicating that the home can be an important source of exposure.”

Beware The Home

Usually liquid at room temperature, PFRs are synthetic or man-made chemicals and have shown in past studies some association with increased risks for cancer, neurological disorders, and hormone imbalances. In fact, PFRs as a chemical group include TCEP or tris (2-chloroethyl) phosphate and TDCIPP or tris (1,3-dichloroisopropyl) phosphate, both of which are listed as carcinogens under California’s Proposition 65.

The flame retardant chemicals chosen to be included in the current study are produced in the United States in excess of one million pounds/year. Despite such high production volumes, some of the chemicals have not been tested for safety, according to the study authors, who believe current practices for adding flame retardants to products are inadequate when it comes to protecting human health.

To begin the study, the researchers collected urine samples from 16 nonsmoking adults living in northern California in 2011. Of the participants, 12 lived in Richmond, an urban fence-line community, and four lived in Bolinas, a rural coastal town. Along with urine samples, the researchers simultaneously collected house dust samples. The resident participants also answered survey questions about the presence of furniture, carpets, and electronics, particularly if any items had been introduced since 2006.

After performing chemical analysis, the researchers detected six diaryl phosphates (or DAPs) in residents’ urine samples. In the case of two particular flame retardants, participants with the highest levels in their bodies lived in homes with the highest levels of these chemicals in the dust. The researchers suggest a relationship exists between the two circumstances.

Going forward, the researchers recommend routine monitoring of the six DAP metabolites along with several other chemicals.

What You Can Do

To protect your own home and body, the researchers suggest you:

  • Select furniture and building materials without chemical flame retardants. Polyester and wool are flame resistant minus the chemical additives.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, while also wiping surfaces with a wet cloth or mop.
  • Confirm all furniture made with foam is in good condition and does not expose any of the inner foam.
  • Avoid using foam padding under carpets.
  • Wash your hands frequently to minimize the amount of contaminated dust ingested.

Source: Dodson RE, Van den Eede N, Covaci A, et al. Urinary Biomonitoring of Phosphate Flame Retardants: Levels in California Adults and Recommendations for Future Studies. Environmental Science & Technology. 2014.