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Retarding Exposure to Fire Retardants, Plasticizers and Cell Phones

Retarding Exposure to Fire Retardants, Plasticizers and Cell Phones

Brominated flame retardants have been banned, but are OPEs any better?

When Orlando Bloom, Melissa Etheridge and Guillermo del Toro had to evacuate their homes last year as fire tore through Malibu, Calabasas and Thousand Oaks, they weren’t the only ones hoping that Mother Nature and the amazing fire-fighting teams would stop the inferno’s spread.

Fire retardants, well, they can be life savers, but they’re also a focus of health and environmental concerns. Brominated flame retardants have been banned and restricted, but the replacements, organophosphate ester (OPE) flame retardants and plasticizers, are now the focus of research on their environmental impact and side effects, such as developmental issues in children, fertility problems and possibly some types of cancer.

Research presented at the American Chemical Society Spring 2019 National Meeting & Exposition looked into whether electronic devices were a major source of our exposure to OPEs. The conclusion: OPEs are everywhere in the home—on every surface, in floor dust, on study participants’ hands and on electronic devices. But one hot spot was a cell phone: The researchers said that when people use their cell phones (often 100s or 1000s of times daily), they ingest the compounds or absorb them through their skin.

The conclusion: Frequent hand washing as well as wiping down cell phones and electronic devices is essential. And put away your smart phone before you eat! Plus, parents should be very careful about giving small children handheld devices. They put their hands in their mouth and lick or chew on surfaces—which may super-expose them to the toxins in OPEs.

Medically reviewed in February 2020.

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