Worker Exposure to Flame Retardants in Manufacturing, Construction and Service Industries

CF Estill
J Slone
A. Mayer
I-Chen Chen
M. J. La Guardia, Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Workers in several industries are occupationally exposed to flame retardants. This study characterizes flame retardant exposure for nine industries through air and hand wipe measures for 105 workers. Specifically, we analyzed 24 analytes from three chemical classes: organophosphate flame retardants (OFRs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and non-PBDE brominated flame retardants (NPBFRs). The industries were: carpet installation, chemical manufacturing, foam manufacturing, electronic scrap, gymnastics, rigid board installation, nail salons, roofing, and spray polyurethane foam. Workers wore personal air samplers for two entire workdays and provided hand wipe samples before and after the second work day. Bulk products were also analyzed. The air, hand wipe and bulk samples were evaluated for relevant flame retardants. Spray polyurethane foam workers’ tris(1-chloro-2-propyl) phosphate air (geometric mean = 48,500 ng/m3) and hand wipe (geometric mean = 83,500 ng per sample) concentrations had the highest mean industry concentration of any flame retardant analyzed in this study, followed by triphenyl phosphate air concentration and tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate hand wipe concentration from chemical manufacturers. Overall, OFR air and hand wipe concentrations were higher and more prevalent than PBDEs or non-PBDE brominated flame retardants. Some industries including spray polyurethane foam application, chemical manufacturing, foam manufacturing, nail salons, roofing, and rigid polyiso board installation had high potential for both air and hand exposure to OFRs. Carpet installers, electronic scrap workers, and gymnastic workers had exposures to all three classes of flame retardants including PBDEs, which were phased out of production in 2013. Air and dermal exposures to OFRs are prevalent in many industries and are replacing PBDEs in some industries.