Scientists at Indiana University found high levels of a previously unsuspected pollutant in homes, in an electronic waste recycling facility and in the natural environment. People are likely to be exposed to this pollutant by breathing contaminated dust or through skin contact. The chemical, tri(2,4-di-t-butylphenyl) phosphate or TDTBPP, is part of a family of organo-phosphates that are known to be toxic. However, little information is known about the toxicity of TDTBPP or how it gets into our environment. The chemical may be used as a flame retardant or as a plasticizer in consumer products. It may also be formed as other chemicals degrade. It may even be an impurity in a structurally related compound. Many common commercial chemicals, including TDTBPP, are not subject to regulatory scrutiny under the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act unless they are used for new purposes, and much of the information about their commercial use is private. Therefore, it is difficult for environmental chemists to track how these pollutants enter the environment and what kind of effects they might cause once they do. Besides, many chemicals go undetected until scientists perform a general environmental scan, like this study conducted by scientists in this report.
The researchers studied dust samples from an e-waste dismantling facility in Ontario, Canada. Chemicals similar to TDTBPP are often used in the production of plastics, wires, printed circuit boards and electronic equipment, making e-waste recycling facilities an important place to search for previously undetected pollutants. The researchers also studied dust from 20 residential homes in Ontario and analyzed outdoor samples from southwestern Lake Michigan to measure the amounts of TDTBPP in ambient air, water and sediment. They found that levels of TDTBPP were particularly high in house dust. “We found surprisingly high levels of TDTBPP everywhere we looked,” said Marta Venier, a scientist at the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the first author of the study. “The fact that this potentially toxic chemical is so abundant, but was previously unknown, is another example of the ineffective management of chemicals in the United States. Our research is the first step; now that we know that TDTBPP is prevalent, especially in homes, scientists can flag it for further study and focus on understanding the effects of TDTBPP on people”.
Another relatedly topic research has been very recently published by a team of swedish scientists. They investigated the concentrations and temporal variability of organophospate esters (OPEs), halogenated flame retardants (HFRs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in indoor and outdoor urban air in Stockholm, Sweden over one year (2014-2015) period. The median concentrations of the three target chemical groups were 1-2 orders of magnitude higher in indoor air than outdoor urban air. Among tested organo-phosphates, TCIPP (tris(chloroisopropyl)phosphate) in indoor air was found in the highest concentrations and showed the greatest temporal variability, which ranged from 0,85 to 19 mg/m3 during the one-year sampling period. Researchers speculate that activities in the building, e.g. construction, introduction of new electronics, floor cleaning, polishing and changes in ventilation rate could explain its variation. Some of the chemicals analyzed showed seasonality changes in the urban air, but there was some steadiness in the indoor environment. This could reflect the human activities at home that release somehow organo-phosphorous molecules from objects and home duties. It means that home could be more insidious that we might think, especially when in active and/or periodic turnover.
So much for “home sweet home”….
- edited by Dr. Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochemistry.
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