GC-MS can detect flame retardants in hair and nails

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  • Published: Mar 4, 2016
  • Author: Jon Evans
  • Source: Indiana University
  • Channels: Gas Chromatography / Base Peak
thumbnail image: GC-MS can detect flame retardants in hair and nails

Chemicals used as flame retardants that are potentially harmful to humans can be detected in hair, toenails and fingernails, according to new research from Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington, US. This discovery should ease the way for further research investigating the human impact of chemicals commonly found in the environment, including in indoor dust, water and air.

Flame retardants are frequently added to plastic, foam, wood and textiles, where they are used to delay ignition and to slow the spread of fire. However, exposure to flame retardants in various forms has been linked to obesity, learning disabilities, neuro and reproductive toxicity, and endocrine disruption. Flame retardants also persist in the environment, bioaccumulating in ecosystems and in human tissues.

"Little is known about the human exposure to flame retardants, especially new classes of the retardants," said researcher Amina Salamova at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Bloomington. "The first step is to establish a relatively easy and reliable way of measuring chemical levels in people, especially children, and we've determined that hair and nails can provide exactly that."

Until now, researchers depended on samples of human milk, blood and urine, and those samples are more difficult to obtain than hair and nails. As reported in Environmental Science and Technology, the IU researchers collected hair, fingernails and toenails from 50 students in Bloomington and analyzed them with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). This allowed them to compare the levels of chemicals detected in those samples with the levels detected in blood serum from the same people.

What they found was a strong relationship between the levels of a large group of flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in hair and nails and in blood serum. In some cases, women had higher concentrations of common flame retardants, and the researchers speculate this was caused by the use of nail polishes containing these chemicals.

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