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Journal: Environmental science & technology


Indoor dust is a reservoir for commercial consumer product chemicals, including many compounds with known or suspected health effects. However, most dust exposure studies measure few chemicals in small samples. We systematically searched the U.S. indoor dust literature on phthalates, replacement flame retardants (RFRs), perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), synthetic fragrances, and environmental phenols and estimated pooled geometric means (GMs) and 95% confidence intervals for 45 chemicals measured in ≥3 data sets. In order to rank and contextualize these results, we used the pooled GMs to calculate residential intake from dust ingestion, inhalation, and dermal uptake from air, and then identified hazard traits from the Safer Consumer Products Candidate Chemical List. Our results indicate that U.S. indoor dust consistently contains chemicals from multiple classes. Phthalates occurred in the highest concentrations, followed by phenols, RFRs, fragrance, and PFASs. Several phthalates and RFRs had the highest residential intakes. We also found that many chemicals in dust share hazard traits such as reproductive and endocrine toxicity. We offer recommendations to maximize comparability of studies and advance indoor exposure science. This information is critical in shaping future exposure and health studies, especially related to cumulative exposures, and in providing evidence for intervention development and public policy.

Concepts: Mathematics, Measurement, Chemistry, Fire retardant, Chemical compound, Dust, Intake, Aroma compound


California’s furniture flammability standard Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117) is believed to be a major driver of chemical flame retardant (FR) use in residential furniture in the United States. With the phase-out of the polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) FR mixture PentaBDE in 2005, alternative FRs are increasingly being used to meet TB 117; however, it was unclear which chemicals were being used and how frequently. To address this data gap, we collected and analyzed 102 samples of polyurethane foam from residential couches purchased in the United States from 1985 to 2010. Overall, we detected chemical flame retardants in 85% of the couches. In samples purchased prior to 2005 (n = 41) PBDEs associated with the PentaBDE mixture including BDEs 47, 99, and 100 (PentaBDE) were the most common FR detected (39%), followed by tris(1,3-dichloroisopropyl) phosphate (TDCPP; 24%), which is a suspected human carcinogen. In samples purchased in 2005 or later (n = 61) the most common FRs detected were TDCPP (52%) and components associated with the Firemaster550 (FM 550) mixture (18%). Since the 2005 phase-out of PentaBDE, the use of TDCPP increased significantly. In addition, a mixture of nonhalogenated organophosphate FRs that included triphenyl phosphate (TPP), tris(4-butylphenyl) phosphate (TBPP), and a mix of butylphenyl phosphate isomers were observed in 13% of the couch samples purchased in 2005 or later. Overall the prevalence of flame retardants (and PentaBDE) was higher in couches bought in California compared to elsewhere, although the difference was not quite significant (p = 0.054 for PentaBDE). The difference was greater before 2005 than after, suggesting that TB 117 is becoming a de facto standard across the U.S. We determined that the presence of a TB 117 label did predict the presence of a FR; however, lack of a label did not predict the absence of a flame retardant. Following the PentaBDE phase out, we also found an increased number of flame retardants on the market. Given these results, and the potential for human exposure to FRs, health studies should be conducted on the types of FRs identified here.

Concepts: United States, Mixture, Fire retardant, Flame retardant, Decabromodiphenyl ether, Polychlorinated biphenyl, Flame retardants, De facto


Tunas are apex predators in marine food webs that can accumulate mercury (Hg) to high concentrations and provide more Hg (∼40%) to the U.S population than any other source. We measured Hg concentrations in 1292 Atlantic bluefin tuna (ABFT, Thunnus thynnus) captured in the Northwest Atlantic from 2004 to 2012. ABFT Hg concentrations and variability increased nonlinearly with length, weight, and age, ranging from 0.25 to 3.15 mg kg(-1), and declined significantly at a rate of 0.018 ± 0.003 mg kg(-1) per year or 19% over an 8-year period from the 1990s to the early 2000s. Notably, this decrease parallels comparably reduced anthropogenic Hg emission rates in North America and North Atlantic atmospheric Hg(0) concentrations during this period, suggesting that recent efforts to decrease atmospheric Hg loading have rapidly propagated up marine food webs to a commercially important species. This is the first evidence to suggest that emission reduction efforts have resulted in lower Hg concentrations in large, long-lived fish.

Concepts: United States, Atlantic Ocean, Europe, Gulf of Mexico, Tuna, Thunnus, Scombridae, Northern bluefin tuna


Antibiotic resistance is increasingly widespread, largely due to human influence. Here, we explore the relationship between antibiotic resistance genes and the antimicrobial chemicals triclosan, triclocarban, and methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, and butylparaben in the dust microbiome. Dust samples from a mixed-use athletic and educational facility were subjected to microbial and chemical analyses using a combination of 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing, shotgun metagenome sequencing, and liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry. The dust resistome was characterized by identifying antibiotic resistance genes annotated in the Comprehensive Antibiotic Resistance Database (CARD) from the metagenomes of each sample using the Short, Better Representative Extract Data set (ShortBRED). The three most highly abundant antibiotic resistance genes were tet(W), blaSRT-1, and erm(B). The complete dust resistome was then compared against the measured concentrations of antimicrobial chemicals, which for triclosan ranged from 0.5 to 1970 ng/g dust. We observed six significant positive associations between the concentration of an antimicrobial chemical and the relative abundance of an antibiotic resistance gene, including one between the ubiquitous antimicrobial triclosan and erm(X), a 23S rRNA methyltransferase implicated in resistance to several antibiotics. This study is the first to look for an association between antibiotic resistance genes and antimicrobial chemicals in dust.

Concepts: Bacteria, Mass spectrometry, Ribosomal RNA, Antibiotic resistance, 16S ribosomal RNA, Analytical chemistry, Microorganism, Abundance of the chemical elements


Use of electronic cigarettes has grown exponentially over the past few years, raising concerns about harmful emissions. This study quantified potentially toxic compounds in the vapor and identified key parameters affecting emissions. Six principal constituents in three different refill “e-liquids” were propylene glycol (PG), glycerin, nicotine, ethanol, acetol, and propylene oxide. The latter, with mass concentrations of 0.4-0.6%, is a possible carcinogen and respiratory irritant. Aerosols generated with vaporizers contained up to 31 compounds, including nicotine, nicotyrine, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, glycidol, acrolein, acetol, and diacetyl. Glycidol is a probable carcinogen not previously identified in the vapor, and acrolein is a powerful irritant. Emission rates ranged from tens to thousands of nanograms of toxicants per milligram of e-liquid vaporized, and they were significantly higher for a single-coil vs a double-coil vaporizer (by up to an order of magnitude for aldehydes). By increasing the voltage applied to a single-coil device from 3.3 to 4.8 V, the mass of e-liquid consumed doubled from 3.7 to 7.5 mg puff(-1) and the total aldehyde emission rates tripled from 53 to 165 μg puff(-1), with acrolein rates growing by a factor of 10. Aldehyde emissions increased by more than 60% after the device was reused several times, likely due to the buildup of polymerization byproducts that degraded upon heating. These findings suggest that thermal degradation byproducts are formed during vapor generation. Glycidol and acrolein were primarily produced by glycerin degradation. Acetol and 2-propen-1-ol were produced mostly from PG, while other compounds (e.g., formaldehyde) originated from both. Because emissions originate from reaction of the most common e-liquid constituents (solvents), harmful emissions are expected to be ubiquitous when e-cigarette vapor is present.

Concepts: Ethanol, Smoking, Tobacco, Cigarette, Nicotine, Electronic cigarette, Propylene glycol, Glycerol


In the aftermath of the March 2011 accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the future contribution of nuclear power to the global energy supply has become somewhat uncertain. Because nuclear power is an abundant, low-carbon source of base-load power, on balance it could make a large contribution to mitigation of global climate change and air pollution. Using historical production data, we calculate that global nuclear power has prevented about 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths and 64 gigatonnes (Gt) CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would have resulted from fossil fuel burning. Based on global projection data that take into account the effects of Fukushima, we find that by mid-century, nuclear power could prevent an additional 420,000 to 7.04 million deaths and 80 to 240 GtCO2-eq emissions due to fossil fuels, depending on which fuel it replaces. By contrast, we assess that large-scale expansion of natural gas use would not mitigate the climate problem and would cause far more deaths than expansion of nuclear power.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Natural gas, Methane, Fossil fuel, Coal, Energy development, Greenhouse gas, Global warming


In an unprecedented food monitoring campaign for radionuclides, the Japanese government took action to secure food safety after the Fukushima nuclear accident (11 March 2011). In this paper we analyze a part of the immense data set, in particular radiocesium contaminations in food from the first year after the accident. Activity concentrations in vegetables peaked immediately after the campaign had commenced, but they decreased quickly, so that by early summer 2011 only few samples exceeded the regulatory limits. Later, accumulating mushrooms and dried produce led to several exceedances of the limits again. Monitoring of meat started with significant delay, especially outside Fukushima prefecture. After a buildup period, contamination levels of meat peaked by July 2011 (beef). Levels then decreased quickly, but peaked again in September 2011, which was primarily due to boar meat (a known accumulator of radiocesium). Pre-Fukushima 137Cs and 90Sr levels (resulting from atmospheric nuclear explosions) in food were typically lower than 0.5 Bq/kg, whereby meat was typically higher in 137Cs, and vegetarian produce was usually higher in 90Sr. The correlation of background radiostrontium and radiocesium indicated that the regulatory assumption after the Fukushima accident of a maximum activity of 90Sr being 10% of the respective 137Cs concentrations may soon be at risk, as the 90Sr/137Cs ratio increases with time. This should be taken into account for the current Japanese food policy as the current regulation will soon underestimate the 90Sr content of Japanese foods.

Concepts: Nuclear medicine, Food, Japan, Radioactive contamination, Prefectures of Japan, Government of Japan, Honshū, Cabinet of Japan


The rapid rise of unconventional oil production during the past decade in the Bakken region of North Dakota raises concerns related to water contamination associated with the accidental release of oil and gas wastewater to the environment. Here, we characterize the major and trace element chemistry and isotopic ratios ((87)Sr/(86)Sr, δ(18)O, δ(2)H) of surface waters (n = 29) in areas impacted by oil and gas wastewater spills in the Bakken region of North Dakota. We establish geochemical and isotopic tracers that can identify Bakken brine spills in the environment. In addition to elevated concentrations of dissolved salts (Na, Cl, Br), spill waters also consisted of elevated concentrations of other contaminants (Se, V, Pb, NH4) compared to background waters, and soil and sediment in spill sites had elevated total radium activities ((228)Ra + (226)Ra) relative to background, indicating accumulation of Ra in impacted soil and sediment. We observed that inorganic contamination associated with brine spills in North Dakota is remarkably persistent, with elevated levels of contaminants observed in spills sites up to 4 years following the spill events.

Concepts: Water, Petroleum, Chemistry, Water pollution, Chlorine, Native Americans in the United States, Environmentalism, South Dakota


Phthalates are ubiquitous chemicals linked to hormonal disruptions that affect reproduction and development. Multiple anti-androgenic phthalates exposure during fetal development can have greater impacts than individual exposure; thus, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recommends them for cumulative assessment. Using National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data (NHANES, 2001-2012), we developed a potency-weighted sum of daily intake (∑androgen-disruptor; µg/kg/day) of di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP), diisobutyl phthalate (DiBP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP), and di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) based on NAS recommendations, and included diethyl phthalate (DEP) and diisononyl phthalate (DiNP) in additional metrics (2005-2012). We compared racial/ethnic differences in ∑androgen-disruptor among 2842 reproductive-aged women. In sensitivity analyses, we assessed the influence of potency assumptions, alternate urine dilution adjustment methods, and weighting phthalate metabolites directly rather than daily intake estimates of parent compounds. We found that DEHP contributed most to ∑androgen-disruptor (48-64%), and that ∑androgen-disruptor decreased over time. Black women generally had higher cumulative exposures than white women, although the magnitude and precision of the difference varied by model specification. Our approach provides a blueprint for combining chemical exposures linked to common adverse outcomes, and should be considered in future exposure, risk, and epidemiological studies.

Concepts: Phthalates, Phthalate, Diethyl phthalate, Plasticizer, Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, Plasticizers, Diisononyl phthalate, Diisoheptyl phthalate


In recent years, an intense debate has been generated about the environmental risks posed by neonicotinoids, a group of widely-used, neurotoxic insecticides. When these systemic compounds are applied to seeds, low concentrations are subsequently found in the nectar and pollen of the crop, which are then collected and consumed by bees. Here we demonstrate that current focus on exposure to pesticides via the crop overlooks an important factor - throughout spring and summer, mixtures of neonicotinoids are also found in the pollen and nectar of wildflowers growing in arable field margins, at concentrations that are sometimes even higher than those found in the crop. Indeed the large majority (97%) of neonicotinoids brought back in pollen to honey bee hives in arable landscapes was from wildflowers, not crops. Both previous and ongoing field studies have been based on the premise that exposure to neonicotinoids would only occur during the blooming period of flowering crops and that it may be diluted by bees also foraging on untreated wildflowers. Here, we show that exposure is likely to be higher and more prolonged than currently recognized due to widespread contamination of wild plants growing near treated crops.

Concepts: Agriculture, Insect, Honey bee, Beekeeping, Flower, Honey, Insecticide, Neonicotinoid