Exposure to PBDEs in the office environment: evaluating the relationships between dust, handwipes, and serum

Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Sep;119(9):1247-52. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1003271. Epub 2011 Jun 30.


Background: Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) have been widely used as flame retardants in consumer products and are ubiquitous in residential indoor air and dust. However, little is known about exposure in the office environment.

Objectives: We examined relationships between PBDE concentrations in the office environment and internal exposure using concurrent measurements of PBDEs in serum, handwipes, and office dust.

Methods: We collected serum, dust, and handwipe samples from 31 participants who spent at least 20 hr/week in an office. We used a questionnaire to collect information about work and personal habits.

Results: We found positive associations between PBDEs in room dust, handwipes (a measure of personal exposure), and serum. PBDE office dust concentrations were weakly correlated with measurements in handwipes: r = 0.35 (p = 0.06) for pentaBDE (sum of BDE congeners 28/33, 47, 99, 100, and 153) and 0.33 (p = 0.07) for BDE-209. Hand washing also predicted pentaBDE levels in handwipes: low hand-washers had 3.3 times the pentaBDE levels in their handwipes than did high hand-washers (p = 0.02). PentaBDE in handwipes predicted pentaBDE levels in serum (p = 0.03): Serum concentrations in the highest handwipe tertile were on average 3.5 times the lowest handwipe tertile. The geometric mean concentration of pentaBDEs in serum was 27 ng/g lipid. We detected BDE-209 in 20% of serum samples, at levels ranging from < 4.8 to 9.7 ng/g lipid.

Conclusion: Our research suggests that exposure to pentaBDE in the office environment contributes to pentaBDE body burden, with exposure likely linked to PBDE residues on hands. In addition, hand washing may decrease exposure to PBDEs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Burden
  • Boston
  • Dust / analysis
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Female
  • Flame Retardants / analysis*
  • Flame Retardants / metabolism
  • Flame Retardants / toxicity*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / analysis*
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / blood
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / metabolism
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / toxicity*
  • Hand
  • Hand Disinfection
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Dust
  • Flame Retardants
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers