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Exposure to PBDEs in Workplace Can Wind Up in Your Blood

Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Despite being taken off the U.S. market years ago, the flame retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) can still be found in several workplaces and, consequently, wind up in the blood of employees, according to a study published Thursday in Environmental Health Perspectives.

PBDEs were commonly used in products ranging from computers to foam padding in furniture until they were withdrawn in 2004 over possible health concerns.  But a lot of PBDE-containing products, including office furniture, are still around today.

Researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health tested 31 office workers and their workspaces in Boston for the presence of PBDEs using wipe tests of office surfaces, employees’ hands and blood tests.  The flame retardant was detected in all office areas, on the hands of 94 percent of the workers and in the blood of 20 percent of the employees. 

Interestingly, employees who reported washing their hands frequently had lower levels of PBDEs on their hands than those who reported infrequent hand washing.   In turn, lower levels of PBDEs on hands was also linked to lower levels of PBDEs in blood. 

The study's authors concluded that exposure to PBDEs in offices is linked to PBDE residues on hands, and that blood contamination is likely due to hand-to-mouth exposure.   They stressed that “good old-fashioned soap and water may be [all that’s] needed to remove the PBDEs.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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