Washing your hands more often may do more than slow the spread of COVID-19: New research suggests it also lowers your exposure to toxic flame retardants.
How? Scientists found that halogenated flame retardants used in plastic TV cases can travel from the TV to indoor air and dust, then to hands, and then to electronic devices such as cellphones.
That means that you can be exposed to these chemicals every time you touch your cellphone, according to the study published June 9 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.
Halogenated flame retardants, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are known to be a health risk to children. Previous research has shown that exposure to these chemicals can cause lower IQ and behavioral problems in children.
“It’s well-known that viruses are transferred between surfaces and hands,” said study co-author Miriam Diamond, a professor in the University of Toronto’s department of earth sciences.
“Our study shows that toxic chemicals like flame retardants do the same. That’s another reason we should all wash our hands often and well,” Diamond said in a university news release.
Study co-author Lisa Melymuk, an assistant professor of environmental chemistry at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, noted that “if a flame retardant is used in the TVs, we then find it throughout the house, including on the hands of the resident.”
And even though regular hand-washing can reduce your exposure to these chemicals, Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute in Berkeley, Calif., suggested that “to reduce health harm from flame retardants, the electronics industry should stop their unnecessary use.”
Blum said, “Fire safety can be achieved by innovative product design and materials instead of the use of toxic chemicals that can remain in our homes — and in us — for years to come.”
The U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has more on flame retardants.