Harmful flame retardants may be lurking on your hands and cell phone

Toxic flame retardants can move from your TV to your cell phone to your hands and then you, caution scientists.


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The term flame retardants subsume a diverse group of chemicals that are added to manufactured materials, such as plastics and textiles, and surface finishes, and coatings.

The presence of halogenated flame retardants, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, can pose a higher risk to children. Even a study has suggested that exposure to these chemicals can cause lower IQ in children and behavioral problems.

A new study has found that halogenated flame retardants added to plastic TV cases can move from the TV to indoor air and dust, to hands, and then to cell phones and other hand-held electronic devices. Once on your cell phone, that surface provides an ongoing source of exposure to these chemicals each time you touch your cell phone.

Scientists were surprised to find higher levels of almost all halogenated flame retardants, all organophosphate flame retardants, and phthalate plasticizers on the surfaces of cell phones and other hand-held electronic devices like tablets, compared to non-hand-held devices like desktop computers.

Scientists suggest that these old chemicals got to the new phones by transfer from hands.

Recently manufactured TVs contain high levels of unnecessary and harmful flame retardants. We are exposed because the flame retardants are not bonded to the cases, but escape over time to contaminate our indoor environments.

Co-author Lisa Melymuk, an Assistant Professor of Environmental Chemistry at Masaryk University, said, “If a flame retardant is used in the TVs, we then find it throughout the house, including on the hands of the resident. So it is highly recommended to wash hands often as it can reduce our exposure to harmful flame retardants.”

Arlene Blum, Executive Director of the Green Science Policy Institute, said“However, to reduce health harm from flame retardants, the electronics industry should stop their unnecessary use. Fire safety can be achieved by innovative product design and materials instead of the use of toxic chemicals that can remain in our homes–and in us–for years to come.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Congqiao Yang et al., Are We Exposed to Halogenated Flame Retardants from both Primary and Secondary Sources? DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.0c00268


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