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Flame-Retardant Chemicals Common in Offices

Study: Frequent Hand Washing Appears to Reduce Exposure to Hormone-Disrupting PBDEs
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Picking Up PBDEs at Work continued...

“We were trying to figure out how PBDEs get out of products and into people,” says study researcher Deborah Watkins, a doctoral candidate at the Boston University School of Public Health.

For the study, researchers recruited 31 adults who worked at least 20 hours a week in eight different office buildings around Boston.

Most of the study participants were women, and they were on average about 49 years old.

Investigators vacuumed the floors of their offices and checked the collected dust for PBDEs.

They also swabbed the hands of study volunteers at least an hour after the last time they washed their hands. They saved and analyzed those gauze pads for PBDEs.

Blood samples were taken and analyzed for 11 different types of PBDEs.

Study participants also answered a battery of questions about their work and personal habits, including the average number of hours they spent at work each day and how often they generally washed their hands.

Penta-PBDEs, the ones that were discontinued in 2004, were found on the hands of all study volunteers and in all the office dust.

And people whose offices had the highest PBDEs in the dust were also the most likely to have high levels on their hands.

But workers who were frequent hand washers, scrubbing at least four times each day, had blood levels of PBDEs that were about three times lower than people who washed their hands less frequently.

“One of the major results we found here is this very strong association between what we found was on people’s hands and what was in their blood,” Webster says.

That probably means that people aren’t coming into contact with PBDEs by inhaling them.

“The more likely scenario is that you’re absorbing it through your skin or you’re getting it on your hands and then you’re eating it,” he says.

“Your desk has dust on it. Your keyboard’s got dust on it. Actually everything in your whole office has a thin film of organic material on it,” Webster tells WebMD. “And so there’s PBDEs in that and then you get it on your hands and you eat a sandwich and you get it in your mouth.”

The study was published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

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