Some women experienced a 74 percent decrease in levels after upping the cleaning of their house for a week
After a small group of women increased their house cleaning and hand washing, the levels of harmful common flame retardants in their bodies plummeted, according to a study released today.
The study, published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, is the first to look at exposure to the chemicals before and after increases in house cleaning and hand washing, and suggests some simple lifestyle changes can significantly reduce our toxic loads.
The chemicals are often found in furniture and electronics to suppress flames and prevent fires. Researchers believe household dust is the primary way most people are exposed to flame retardants, which leach out of products into the environment.
Furthermore a lot of the dust enters our bodies when we put our hands to our mouths—which leaves children most susceptible.
"One week of increased hand washing or targeted house cleaning is enough, in some cases, to reduce exposure to flame retardants by half," the authors wrote.
A little cleaning goes a long way
Researchers measured a common flame retardant called Tris and six other flame retardants in 32 women and then had the participants either ramp up their house cleaning—with new cleaning supplies and increased cleanings—or their hand washing for a week.
The following week, all of the women did extra house cleaning and hand washing.
After the first week the house cleaning group had a 47 percent decrease of Tris flame retardants measured in their urine, while the hand washing group had a 31 percent decrease. Women with higher than average Tris exposure before the increased cleaning had a 74 percent decrease in their levels following a week of house cleaning.
After the second week, the women had Tris levels decrease 43 percent from their original levels, and women with higher than average levels had a 62 percent decrease. Levels of the other flame retardants fell at roughly the same rate as the Tris.
Not a total fix
The study was limited in that it was small, however, the findings are important as flame retardant exposure is ubiquitous—Tris was found in 97 percent of urine samples in the women—and the chemicals have been linked to endocrine disruption (meaning they alter proper functioning of our hormones), fertility problems and thyroid dysfunction.
Senior author Elizabeth Gibson, PhD student in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University's Mailman School, was cautiously optimistic.
"The results imply that both hand washing and house cleaning can be effective ways to reduce exposure to flame retardants and this evidence supports the EPA's recommendations," she said in a statement.
"However, none of the reported flame retardants were reduced below the limit of detection, indicating that individual behavior cannot entirely reduce exposure."