Halogenated flame-retardant concentrations in settled dust, respirable and inhalable particulates and polyurethane foam at gymnastic training facilities and residences

Environ Int. 2015 Jun;79:106-14. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2015.02.014. Epub 2015 Mar 24.


Halogenated flame-retardants (FRs) are used in a wide array of polymer-containing products. Animal studies and structure-activity modeling exercises suggest that FR exposure may result in detrimental toxicological effects. Workers with extended contact with such polymers (e.g., electronic dismantlers, carpet installers and aircraft personnel) have previously been observed to exhibit elevated body burdens of FRs, e.g., polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Recently, elevated PBDE blood levels were also reported in a non-occupational exposure group, gymnasts. These levels were hypothesized to be related to the large volumes of FR-treated polyurethane foam in gymnastics facilities. To further our understanding of workers' potential exposure, we analyzed FR concentrations in indoor dust and size-fractionated air particulates (respirable (<4 μm) and inhalable (>4 μm)) from gymnastic studios. Values were compared to samples from the homes of coaches employed at these facilities. Polyurethane foam blocks (i.e., pit foam) were also analyzed to characterize potential FR sources. FRs examined included those used to flame-retard polyurethane foam: 8 PBDE congeners, two brominated components of Firemaster 550 (2-ethylhexyl 2, 3, 4, 5-tetrabromobenzoate (TBB) and bis(2-ethylhexyl) 3, 4, 5, 6-tetrabromophthalate (TBPH)) and three chlorinated organophosphates (tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP), tris(1-chloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TCPP) and tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCPP)). Several additional FRs not used in polyurethane were also evaluated. These have also been detected in indoor dust and air and may also lead to adverse health effects. These include: BDE-183 and its replacement product (1, 2-bis(2, 4, 6-tribromophenoxy) ethane (BTBPE), two congeners of the deca-BDE formulation (BDE-206, -209) and their replacement decabromodiphenyl ethane (DBDPE) and hexabromocyclododecane (α-, β-, γ-HBCD), and tetrabromobisphenol-A (TBBPA)). Pit foam contained multiple FRs at cumulative concentrations of 12,100 to 25,800 μg g(-1), or 1.2% to 2.6% by weight. TBB and TBPH were the most abundant FRs detected, followed by TDCPP and several PBDEs. The mean total FR burden detected at the gyms was 8.6-fold higher (574 μg g(-1)) than that observed in the house dust samples (66.8 μg g(-1)). However, the polyurethane additives TBB and TDCPP were the only FRs that exhibited significantly greater levels (P<0.05) in gym than house dust. Mean levels of five FRs (BDE-99, -100, -153, -209 and TDCPP) were also higher in respirable particulates from the gyms than the homes and four FRs (BDE-47, TBB, TBPH and DBDPE) were higher at the homes than the gyms; these differences were not significant (P>0.05). Several additional FRs were detected in inhalable particulates; mean levels of BDE-66, -206 and TCPP were higher in the homes and BDE-47, -85, -99, -100, -153, -209, TBB, TBPH, and TDCPP were higher at the gyms. But, only the polyurethane additives i.e., BDE-100, TBB and TDCPP were significantly greater (P<0.05) in inhalable particulates from the gyms than at the homes. In conclusion, polyurethane foam collected from gymnastic studios exhibited a variety of FR compositional signatures; likely reflective of changes in FR usage over time and by different manufacturers. FR concentrations and compositional signatures also differed between settled dust, respirable and inhalable particulates between the gyms and homes. Concentrations of FRs used in polyurethane foam were higher in gym air and dust compared to homes, particularly TBB and TDCPP - which were also the primary FRs detected in the pit foam samples. Although these results should be interpreted with caution, as the sample size was small, these findings do suggest that FR concentrations observed in dust and air particulates from the gymnastic studios are further evidence that individuals frequenting these environments are at greater risk for exposure to these polymer additives.

Keywords: Dust analysis; Flame retardants; Gymnast; Human exposure; Indoor air quality; Polyurethane.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution, Indoor / analysis*
  • Dust / analysis*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Flame Retardants / analysis*
  • Gymnastics*
  • Halogenation
  • Housing*
  • Humans
  • Particulate Matter / analysis*
  • Polyurethanes / analysis*


  • Dust
  • Flame Retardants
  • Particulate Matter
  • Polyurethanes
  • polyurethane foam