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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


Higher house dust levels of PBDE flame retardants (FRs) have been reported in California than other parts of the world, due to the state’s furniture flammability standard. However, changing levels of these and other FRs have not been evaluated following the 2004 U.S. phase-out of PentaBDE and OctaBDE. We analyzed dust collected in 16 California homes in 2006 and again in 2011 for 62 FRs and organohalogens, which represents the broadest investigation of FRs in homes. Fifty-five compounds were detected in at least one sample; 41 in at least 50% of samples. Concentrations of chlorinated OPFRs, including two (TCEP and TDCIPP) listed as carcinogens under California’s Proposition 65, were found up to 0.01% in dust, higher than previously reported in the U.S. In 75% of the homes, we detected TDBPP, or brominated “Tris,” which was banned in children’s sleepwear because of carcinogenicity. To our knowledge, this is the first report on TDBPP in house dust. Concentrations of Firemaster 550 components (EH-TBB, BEH-TEBP, and TPHP) were higher in 2011 than 2006, consistent with its use as a PentaBDE replacement. Results highlight the evolving nature of FR exposures and suggest that manufacturers continue to use hazardous chemicals and replace chemicals of concern with chemicals with uncharacterized toxicity.

Concepts: DNA, United States, Fire retardant, Plastic, Decabromodiphenyl ether, Brominated flame retardant, Flame retardants, Dust explosion


Variability in consumer practices and choices is typically not addressed in comparisons of environmental impacts of traditional shopping and e-commerce. Here, we developed a stochastic model to quantify the variability in the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprints of product distribution and purchase of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) via three prevalent retail channels in the United Kingdom (U.K.). We found that shopping via bricks and clicks (click and fulfillment via physical store delivery) most likely decreases the GHG footprints when substituting traditional shopping, while FMCGs purchased through pure players with parcel delivery often have higher GHG footprints compared to those purchased via traditional retail. The number of items purchased and the last-mile travel distance are the dominant contributors to the variability in the GHG footprints of all three retail channels. We further showed that substituting delivery vans with electric cargo bikes can lead to a GHG emission reduction of 26% via parcel delivery. Finally, we showed the differences in the “last mile” GHG footprint of traditional shopping in the U.K. compared to three other countries (China, Netherlands, and the United States), which are primarily caused by the different shares of modes of transport (walking and by car, bus, and bike).


Community-led total sanitation (CLTS) is a participatory approach to addressing open defecation that has demonstrated success in previous studies, yet there is no research on how implementation arrangements and context change effectiveness. We used a quasi-experimental study design to compare two interventions in Ethiopia: conventional CLTS in which health workers and local leaders provided facilitation; and an alternative approach in which teachers provided facilitation. In 2012, Plan International Ethiopia trained teachers from 111 villages, and health workers and leaders from 54 villages in CLTS facilitation. The trained facilitators then implemented CLTS in their respective villages for a year. Latrine ownership, use, and quality were measured with household surveys. Differences between interventions were explored using surveys and interviews. The decrease in open defecation associated with teacher-facilitated CLTS was 8.2 percentage points smaller than for conventional CLTS (p=0.048). Teachers had competing responsibilities and initially lacked support from local leaders, which may have lessened their success. Teachers may be more appropriate for a supporting rather than leading role in sanitation promotion, as they did demonstrate ability and engagement. Open defecation decreased by 15.3 percentage points overall, but did not change where baseline open defecation was below 30%. Ownership of a latrine with stable flooring increased by 8.7 percentage points overall. Improved latrine ownership did not change during the intervention. CLTS is most appropriate where open defecation is high, as there were no significant changes in sanitation practices or latrine upgrades where baseline open defecation was low.

Concepts: Management, Demonstration, Facilitation, Intervention, Sewerage, Rural community development, Participatory rural appraisal, Community-led total sanitation


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


The increasing presence of micro- and nano-sized plastics in the environment and food chain is of growing concern. Although mindful consumers are promoting the reduction of single-use plastics, some manufacturers are creating new plastic packaging to replace traditional paper uses, such as plastic teabags. The objective of this study was to determine whether plastic teabags could release microplastics and/or nanoplastics during a typical steeping process. We show that steeping a single plastic teabag at brewing temperature (95 °C) releases approximately 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics into a single cup of the beverage. The composition of the released particles is matched to the original teabags (nylon and polyethylene terephthalate) using Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). The levels of nylon and polyethylene terephthalate particles released from the teabag packaging are several orders of magnitude higher than plastic loads previously reported in other foods. An initial acute invertebrate toxicity assessment shows that exposure to only the particles released from the teabags caused dose-dependent behavioral and developmental effects.


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


Microplastics are ubiquitous across ecosystems, yet the exposure risk to humans is unresolved. Focusing on the American diet, we evaluated the number of microplastic particles in commonly consumed foods in relation to their recommended daily intake. The potential for microplastic inhalation and how the source of drinking water may affect microplastic consumption were also explored. Our analysis used 402 data points from 26 studies, which represents over 3600 processed samples. Evaluating approximately 15% of Americans' caloric intake, we estimate that annual microplastics consumption ranges from 39000 to 52000 particles depending on age and sex. These estimates increase to 74000 and 121000 when inhalation is considered. Additionally, individuals who meet their recommended water intake through only bottled sources may be ingesting an additional 90000 microplastics annually, compared to 4000 microplastics for those who consume only tap water. These estimates are subject to large amounts of variation; however, given methodological and data limitations, these values are likely underestimates.


Wastewater-based epidemiology may be useful for informing public health response to viral diseases like COVID-19 caused by SARS-CoV-2. We quantified SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater influent and primary settled solids in two wastewater treatment plants to inform the preanalytical and analytical approaches and to assess whether influent or solids harbored more viral targets. The primary settled solids samples resulted in higher SARS-CoV-2 detection frequencies than the corresponding influent samples. Likewise, SARS-CoV-2 RNA was more readily detected in solids using one-step digital droplet (dd)RT-PCR than with two-step RT-QPCR and two-step ddRT-PCR, likely owing to reduced inhibition with the one-step ddRT-PCR assay. We subsequently analyzed a longitudinal time series of 89 settled solids samples from a single plant for SARS-CoV-2 RNA as well as coronavirus recovery (bovine coronavirus) and fecal strength (pepper mild mottle virus) controls. SARS-CoV-2 RNA targets N1 and N2 concentrations correlated positively and significantly with COVID-19 clinically confirmed case counts in the sewershed. Together, the results demonstrate that measuring SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations in settled solids may be a more sensitive approach than measuring SARS-CoV-2 in influent.