Gymnast Exposure To Flame Retardants
November 14, 2013

Gymnasts Exposed To High Levels Of Harmful Flame-Retardants

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Gymnasts are more often exposed to potentially harmful flame-retardants than most people, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Researchers at Boston University Medical Center recruited 11 collegiate female gymnasts between the ages 18 and 22 from a gym and collected hand-wipe and blood samples from them after a gymnastics practice, which lasted about 2.5 hours. They also measured concentrations of bromine in the foam and landing mats, pit cubes and other materials.

The team found that the average concentration of the flame retardant PentaBDE in gymnasts’ blood was 4 to 6.4 times higher than in the general US population. They said that median concentrations of the flame-retardant and related contaminants in hand-swipe samples from the gymnasts were two to three times higher after practice compared to before, which indicates the gymnasts absorbed the substance during practice.

Flame-retardents were much higher in gym air and dust than in residences where they are commonly used in foam-containing furniture. PentaBDE and other flame-retardants can escape from polyurethane foam over time and accumulate in the air and dust of indoor environments.

The team pointed out that despite the phase-out of PentaBDE in US production nearly a decade ago, large amounts are still in use. The replacement flame-retardants being used in newly-manufacturered foam pit cubes and landing mats suggest the potential for increased exposure to these compounds as older gym equipment is replaced.

This study did not look into the health effects of PentaBDE, but previous research shows the flame-retardant may affect brain development in children and fertility in women. Nearly all Americans have detectable levels of PentaBDE in their bodies due to exposure in the indoor environment and diet.

PentaBDE congeners are endocrine disruptors that have been associated with changes in thyroid hormones in several epidemiological studies. Concerns exist about PentaBDE’s persistence and toxicity. The flame-retardant was banned in the European Union in 2004 and phased-out of production in the US in 2005, although foam products containing the substance are still in use because they haven’t been replaced.

The team said PentaBDE was the dominant flame-retardant in dust collected from all locations in both gyms, despite it being banned nearly a decade ago. They said future research on gymnasts should include a larger sample size and seek to identify the primary exposure pathways in order to inform recommendations for reducing exposure.