News Briefs: Surprisingly high levels of Deca flame retardant

Feb 1, 2004 - Environmental Science & Technology · Advanced Search .... News Briefs: Surprisingly high levels of Deca flame retardant. Environ. Sci...
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throughs and voluntary efforts by industry to slow the growth rate of emissions, but not total emissions. At the Milan talks, U.S. officials highlighted efforts by state and local governments in the United States to address climate change and touted federal investments in carbon sequestration, hydrogen, and advanced nuclear technologies as further evidence of efforts to curb emissions. Environmentalists derided such statements, however, noting that the Bush Administration has worked to thwart many of these actions (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2004, 38 (01), 30A−31A). “We need a technological revolution to solve the climate issue,” Diringer says. In a new report, Beyond Kyoto: Advancing the International Effort against Climate Change, Pew researchers point out

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that investing public resources in long-term technology initiatives isn’t enough to kick off the revolution. “We need to give market incentives, both to take up existing technologies that aren’t being used as effectively as they could be and to invest private resources in longterm technology research,” adds Diringer. To do that, he contends, realistic and clear goals need to be set in the form of regulations. In addition, long-term commitments going beyond Kyoto’s 2012 endpoint and participation by all the major emitting countries, both developed and developing, are necessary if dangerous climate change is to be avoided, says Stephan Singer, head of climate and energy policy for the World Wildlife Fund, an environmental group. —KRIS CHRISTEN

P3 engineering awards To spur the creation of sustainable solutions to environmental problems, the U.S EPA and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) announced a national student design competition in December. The $10,000 People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Award, which is supported by 30 partners in the federal government, industry, and professional societies, will recognize college students’ projects that benefit the environment and are not prohibitively expensive. “The most important problem[s] facing the planet [are] consuming resources at a rate faster than the planet can produce them and excreting waste at a rate the planet can’t absorb,” said NAE President William Wulf when the program was announced. The competition began in January, and up to 50 awards will be made in the fall of 2004. For more information, go to

Subways grind out a dose of fine metals which aims to assess personal exposures to air toxics among high school students in urban areas. Students from a Harlem high school carried personal PM2.5 monGREG HILLJE

New York City (NYC) subway riders have an increased exposure to fine particles of some metals, according to a Columbia/Harvard study published in this issue of ES&T (pp 732−737). The study establishes that steel dust from subway rails contributes to relatively high levels of airborne iron, chromium, and manganese near NYC subway platforms. However, the measured exposures are more than 3 orders of magnitude below the standards set by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and health effects at these low levels have not been established. “The chronic exposure may be of concern to people who commute. We think it is totally driven by their time spent in the subway, but we don’t know if there are health effects,” says the study’s lead author, Steven Chillrud. The research was conducted as part of the TEACH (Toxic Exposure Assessment, a Columbia/Harvard) study,

High school students wearing personal monitors revealed that dust from subway rails exposes riders to iron, chromium, and manganese.

Surprisingly high levels of Deca flame retardant The levels of a chemical associated with the Deca brominated flame retardant, which is the world’s most widely used polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) retardant, in a group of U.K. volunteers approach those previously recorded only in Swedish electronics workers who were occupationally exposed to the chemical, according to a study by WWF UK, an environmental group. The blood samples from 155 volunteers from 13 locations in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales were analyzed by researchers at the University of Lancaster for PCBs and organochlorine pesticides such as lindane and DDT, as well as PBDEs. For more information, go to www.wwf-uk. org.


Environmental▼News itors during two 48-hour periods in 1999. The students’ personal measurements for the metals averaged much higher than ambient levels or measurements taken in their homes and school. “The interesting thing about this study is that we were able to identify the biggest source of exposure,” says Sonia Sax, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, whose doctoral work was part of the TEACH study. The ratios of iron and manganese from the personal measurements suggested a steel source. The time and activity data revealed that the students were exposed to higher levels of airborne metals while commuting, and the researchers recognized steel dust from the subway rails as the likely source. “This study shows the importance of testing personal exposures. Doing ambient monitoring, you never would have seen the trend,” says Chillrud. A separate set of measurements taken exclusively in the subway confirmed that exposure there is considerably

higher than ambient or indoor exposure. “We do need to further characterize these exposures,” says Sax. “There are a lot of good epidemiological studies with humans involved, but they are mainly occupational and you can’t extrapolate to low dosages.” The current regulations for iron, chromium, and manganese are based mainly on high-dose studies and on animal studies. Chillrud is heading up a new study of subway workers to determine whether inhaling the metals actually affects the levels in the body. The aim is to establish whether there is a dose–response relationship between inhaled steel dust and measurable biochemical markers. Despite the findings, the subway remains a good alternative to other forms of transportation for NYC’s 1.3 billion annual riders, say the researchers. For example, according to Sax, the volatile organic compounds from surface traffic measured in this study present a greater

lifetime risk for cancer than do the subway metals. “The methods used by Chillrud et al. are some of the more elegant I have seen amongst several similar studies in various cities throughout the world,” says Roy Colville, a scientist from London’s Imperial College, who has done comparable work and reviewed the TEACH study. Although subway riders will inevitably inhale some dust as they wait for their trains, Colville argues that this prospect should not deter anyone. “An underground railway is a heavy engineering activity carried out in a confined space with members of the public present, so it is inevitable that some exposure to tunnel dust will occur,” he explains. “Good management of a first class service includes taking proper account of environmental, health, and safety matters in an integrated manner.… But we also need to take care to avoid getting too hysterical about the dust problem, which will take some time to solve.” —DEIDRA ROBINSON

Deca PBDE flame retardant gets around


pounds, or congeners, on windows in residential and commercial An analysis of the organic film that ing that she sometimes refers to as buildings in and around Toronto. adheres to windows published in “window goo”—has potential to be Craig Butt, a graduate student in this issue of ES&T (pp 724–731)] reused as a cost-effective method for Diamond’s lab, found that brominatveals surprisingly high levels of the monitoring air pollutants. “These ed diphenyl ether-209 (BDE-209), Deca polybrominated diphenyl grimy layers trap more than what the major component of the Deca ether (PBDE) flame retardant. you would suspect,” Diamond says. brominated flame retardant mixture Because the sum of all the PBDEs Diamond’s research team most used in electronics equipment and measured in the films was up to 63 recently measured the concentraon some textiles, dominated the times higher than the levels of tions of 41 individual PBDE commixtures of PBDEs. BDE-209 reprePCBs on every sampled sented nearly 60% of the window, the study’s au14 PBDEs measured in thors say the films may significant quantities in foretell a continuing rise outdoor window films in PBDE levels. and almost 50% of these The paper’s lead author, PBDEs on the insides of Miriam Diamond of the the windows, according to University of Toronto’s gethe researchers’ normalography department, has ized calculations. become well known for her “Up to now, most research into the toxins studies on PBDEs have that adhere to impervious focused on the lower molsurfaces like sidewalks, ecular weight congeners roads, and windows. She of the Penta formulation, believes that the greasy primarily because these film on windows—an 11− are abundant in the gas A study of the organic film on both the insides and outsides of windows reveals high levels of Deca PBDEs. 100-nanometer-thick coatphase and are believed to 50A ■ ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY / FEBRUARY 1, 2004