Manufacturers typically meet furniture flammability standards by applying chemical flame retardants. These chemicals can migrate out of products into dust and are linked to cancer, neurological impairment, and endocrine disruption.
A research team from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Silent Spring Institute, University of New Hampshire, and University of Antwerp collected 95 dust samples from dormitory common areas and student rooms on two U.S. college campuses adhering to two different furniture flammability standards: Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117) and Technical Bulletin 133 (TB133). Because TB133 requires furniture to withstand a much-more-demanding test flame than TB117, the researchers hypothesized that spaces with TB133 furniture would have higher levels of FRs in dust.
The researchers found 47 different flame retardants in the 95 dust samples. Forty-one percent of the dorm rooms had levels of a carcinogen (TDCIPP) above health risk screening levels, and two of the flame retardants (BDE 209 and BDE 47) were nine and five times higher than the highest levels reported in studies from the last 10 years.
Student dormitory rooms tended to have higher levels of some flame retardants compared to common rooms, likely a result of the density of furniture and electronics. As flammability standards are updated, it is critical to understand their impact on exposure and health risks.
Harvard Chan School authors include Joseph Allen, Assistant Professor of Exposure Assessment Science; Memo Cedeño Laurent, Research Associate; Piers MacNaughton, Research Fellow; and John Spengler, Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation.
“Flame Retardant Chemicals in College Dormitories: Flammability Standards Influence Dust Concentrations,” Environ. Sci. Technol., 2017, 51 (9), pp 4860–4869. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b00429.
- Record Levels of Toxic Flame Retardants Found in College Dorms (Newsweek)
- College Dorms May Contain High Levels of Toxins (R&D Magazine)