Study finds college students are more highly exposed to toxic flame retardants in dust from dormitory furnishings than previously thought. Photo by BonnieHenderson/PixaBay
April 25 (UPI) -- Researchers found that students living in college dormitories are exposed to high levels of toxic flame retardants in dust.
The study by the non-profit research organization Silent Spring Institute measured dozens of flame retardants in dorm dust samples including carcinogens, hormone disruptors and chemicals that affect brain function.
Flame retardants were commonly added to furniture by manufacturers to meet flammability standards until recently when it was discovered that exposure to flame retardants were linked to cancer, thyroid disease, decreased fertility and lower cognitive scores.
"College students spend a lot of time in their dorms -- it's their home away from home," Robin Dodson, an environmental exposure scientist at Silent Springs, said in a press release. "So the fact that they're being exposed to hazardous chemicals where they sleep, study, and hangout raises important health concerns."
Researchers analyzed roughly 100 dust samples collected from two U.S. college campuses in the northeast and found a total of 47 different flame retardant chemicals.
The study found that 41 percent of dorm rooms had levels of TDCIPP, a known carcinogen, above health risk screening levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA. Research also showed elevated levels of two brominated flame retardants, BDE 209 and BDE 47. Levels of BDE 209 were nine times higher and levels of BDE 47 were five times higher than the highest levels reported in studies from the past decade.
Researchers also found levels of the carcinogen TCEP were higher in dorm rooms than in common spaces due to dorm rooms being heavily furnished.
The study found differences between the two schools in handling of flame retardants, with one following a more severe flammability standard for furniture that compels manufacturers to use more flame retardants in their production having significantly higher dust levels with flame retardants.
"Our study shows that standards matter," Dodson said. "They impact people's exposures, which can have significant impacts on their health. The good news is, due to recent changes in flammability standards, institutions can now choose to follow a healthier standard that doesn't require the use of flame retardants without compromising fire safety."
The research is part of the Healthy Green Campus project, which educates colleges and universities on the health risks posed by toxic chemicals found in everyday products.
Students and parents can choose upholstered products labeled flame retardant-free to reduce the impact of exposure to toxins in flame retardants.
The study was published in Environmental Science & Technology.