Assessing new methods for measuring occupational exposure to flame retardants

Status: This study is currently recruiting participants.

Purpose:

The goal of this study is to explore two new methods for measuring exposure to flame retardants:

  1. Simple silicone wristbands to measure flame retardants in the air; and
  2. New ‘metabolomics’ methods to measure flame retardants and their metabolites in the body.

The study will test how well these new methods work to measure flame retardant exposure among office workers, paramedics and firefighters.

Join the study:

Who can join?

We are currently recruiting office workers and paramedics. To participate in this study, you must be 29 to 58 years old and able to travel to the University of Toronto St. George campus (223 College Street, Toronto).

What will happen if I participate?

The study is a two-day commitment. You will be asked to:

  • Provide a blood and urine sample in the morning of the first day
  • Wear a silicone rubber wristband for 24 hours
  • Provide a second blood and urine sample on the morning of the second day
  • Complete a short questionnaire about the 24-hour study period

You will receive a $20 gift certificate for participating.

How to join:

For more information or to join the study, email frstudyto@gmail.com. You can also watch the video below to learn more.

Background:

Flame retardants are chemicals incorporated into many consumer products, such as electronics and home furnishings, in order to meet fire safety standards. Flame retardants can be released from these products and enter the surrounding environment. People may be exposed at home or at work, by breathing in, touching, or ingesting flame retardants. Flame retardants have been associated with a variety of health effects, including cancer, but there is little information on what levels of exposure are hazardous, in part because we lack reliable and easy to use methods for measuring these chemicals.

Valid and reliable methods for identifying occupational exposure are needed to better understand the impact of chemicals such as flame retardants on the development of cancer and other disease. Traditional sampling methods are effective, but can often be impractical. For example, measuring levels of chemicals in the air often requires sampling equipment that is expensive, disruptive to wear and difficult to set up. Advancements in technology are making it possible to measure exposures using simple samplers such as silicone wristbands, or by monitoring levels of contaminants and their metabolites inside the body (metabolomics). These new technologies can be used to estimate external and internal exposures for large and diverse worker groups, and offer innovative alternatives to traditional sampling methods if they can be validated.

Methods:

This study is measuring flame retardant exposure in firefighters (who are expected to have high levels exposure), as well as paramedics and office workers (who are both expected to have low levels of exposure). Participants will be asked to wear silicone rubber wristbands for one day. Participants will also provide blood and urine samples at the beginning and end of the sampling period. The silicone wristbands and biological samples will be analyzed in a laboratory to determine exposure to flame retardants. The biological samples will be analyzed using novel high resolution metabolomics methods, and the results from all samples will be compared to more traditional methods of measuring flame retardant chemicals in biological samples in order to validate the new methods.

Participants will also fill out questionnaires about their work in order to better understand the tasks or products that may be associated with exposure to flame retardants.

Implications:

This study will provide information on the validity of two new methods for assessing exposure to flame retardants. The results will tell us whether these methods may be useful for measuring chemical exposures in larger, future studies of workers or the general population. If validated, these methods could also allow researchers to leverage large existing cohorts to investigate occupational exposures and their relationship to disease.

This study will also provide information on flame retardant exposure among firefighters, paramedics and office workers, and the types of tasks associated with flame retardant exposure. This information may be useful in targeting prevention efforts among exposed workers.

Although the focus of the current study is exposure to flame retardants, many of the laboratory analyses conducted as part of this study are “untargeted,” meaning that the results can be used to identify a wide range of chemicals. In the future, researchers could use this information to assess exposure to a wide variety of potentially toxic chemicals at relatively little or no additional costs.

Progress (updated July 2022):

We are currently recruiting 15-20 paramedics and 10-20 office workers. We have completed recruitment and sample collection for firefighters.

Funding:

This project is funded by a Prevention Innovation Grant from the Canadian Cancer Society (award #705577).

Collaborators:

Toronto Fire Services
Toronto Professional Fire Fighters’ Association
OHCOW

Research Team:

Joseph Okeme
Sheila Kalenge
Paul Demers
Victoria Arrandale
Yizhi Zhang (University of Toronto)
Miriam Diamond (University of Toronto)
Philip Awadalla (Ontario Institute for Cancer Research)
Roel Vermeulen (Utrecht University)
Nikhil Rajaram (University of Toronto & MLTSD)
Douglas Walker (Mt Sinai Health System, New York)
Lia Alderete (Life Labs)