A research team at the Boston University School of Public Health has released troubling news about a chemical commonly used as a fire-retardant in polyurethane foam. This type of foam is often found in office furniture, which is typically required to meet higher fire resistance standards than home furniture. TDCPP is believed to be carcinogenic. It is also associated with a reduction in thyroxine for individuals who have regular exposure to TDCPP (low levels of this hormone are linked to male infertility).
What the Study Showed
In the Boston study, the highest levels of TDCPP contamination in airborne dust were found in older office buildings (with correspondingly older office furniture). Urine tests performed on workers at these sites showed a correlating higher level of TDCPP metabolites as well, indicating that occupational exposure does allow the chemical to make it into the body. The two main routes are thought to be inhalation and ingestion.
While this study is alarming, it’s important to understand that there are still many issues to clarify. For example, it’s unclear if the TDCPP levels were higher in older office buildings because old office furniture could be more likely to contain the chemical or if the levels simply build up over time, making newer buildings less prone to show accumulation. It’s also important to note that the study only included 31 people – not anywhere near what you’d need for a true epidemiological study.
TDCPP “Under Fire” in Other Locales as Well
California is one state that has this chemical in the crosshairs. Office furniture in this state is required to meet very specific flame retardant standards. But Proposition 65 also means manufacturers must inform consumers (via labeling) if a product contains a harmful chemical where consumer exposure would exceed a safe threshold. The American Chemistry Council and the North American Flame Retardant Alliance offer a rundown on the topic of Prop 65 and TDCPP that is informative (although it could possibly be biased).
Regardless of the validity of the Boston research team’s findings, we do agree with the conclusion: Employees should wash their hands before eating (seriously, that was the takeaway message). Also, employers should institute good ventilation, dust control and air purification measures to help reduce exposure to contaminants in the workplace. Oh, and if you want to get rid of your old furniture and replace it with new, we can help with that!