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Wearable wristbands detect flame retardants

Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.

Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN) recently featured an article on simple, silicone wristbands used to detect chemicals in the everyday environment. Developed by researchers from Oregon State University, these wearable wristbands act like sponges to absorb chemicals in the air, water and everyday consumer products. EDF sees exciting promise in this technology, and has begun using this tool to make the invisible world of chemicals, visible.

The C&EN article highlighted two new studies which used the wristbands to characterize flame retardant exposure – the first two published studies to demonstrate that the wristband technology can be effectively used for this purpose.

There is good reason to explore flame retardant exposure. A 1975 California flammability standard resulted in the addition of flame retardant chemicals to hundreds of millions of foam products in the U.S. including couches and foam baby products. As furniture and other products get old and breakdown, flame retardants are released into surrounding air and settle in the dust in our homes. Evidence from the CDC’s National Biomonitoring Program demonstrates that 99% of people tested have polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants in their body, and other studies indicate that children are more highly exposed to flame retardants than adults. Read More »

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New Wristband Technology Illuminates Chemical Asthmagens in our Environment

Lindsay McCormick is a Research Analyst.

Asthma presents a huge public health challenge.  Over the past few decades, asthma rates in the U.S. have nearly tripled – increasing from 3.1% in 1980 to 8.4% in 2010. Today, more than 25 million people suffer from this chronic respiratory illness.

While air pollution and allergens like pet dander are clearly big triggers for asthma, we know that certain chemical exposures play an important role as well.  A number of chemicals used in everyday consumer products – from household cleaners and building materials to shampoos and cosmetics – are known or suspected "asthmagens"– environmental agents that cause or exacerbate asthma.  Unfortunately, such chemicals are poorly regulated and we, as individuals, rarely have any way of knowing which ones are lurking in our environment.

EDF recently conducted a pilot project to explore which chemicals we are exposed to in our day-to-day lives.  The project employed simple chemical-detecting wristbands that absorb certain chemicals present in the environment.  We enlisted 28 volunteers to become “environmental sensors” for a week by wearing the wristbands.

Among the results:  Over the course of that week, the participants came into contact with a total of 57 potentially hazardous chemicals, 16 of which are linked to respiratory health effects such as asthma.   Read More »

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