Evaluating e-waste workers’ exposure to flame retardants

A common method used to evaluate skin exposure to hazardous chemicals among workers at electronics recycling plants is to wipe workers’ hands with hand wipes and measure the amount of chemicals on them. A new study found that it took multiple wipes to remove much of the flame retardant residue from workers’ hands at one U.S. recycling facility.

The study was co-authored by Diana Ceballos of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Flame retardants are associated with myriad health issues, including disruptions to the immune system, reproductive problems, and endocrine disorders, and limiting exposure to these chemicals may help mitigate the risks, according to experts. Workers at electronics recycling facilities may be regularly exposed to flame retardants as they dismantle electronics and release the chemicals into the air, which settle on work surfaces.

In the new study, researchers examined the efficiency of two different types of hand wipes—gauze and twill—in removing flame retardant residue from employees’ hands. Samples were collected from a dozen employees immediately at the end of their shift, prior to washing their hands. Findings indicated that the twill wipe was slightly better than the gauze at removing the flame retardants, but that for both types, even after several wipes, it appeared that some residue remained. “The precise number of sequential wipes required to fully quantitate the amount of flame retardant on an employee’s skin is uncertain,” the authors wrote.

Read the study in Chemosphere: Field evaluation of sequential hand wipes for flame retardant exposure in an electronics recycling facility