Learning about gymnast exposure
Competitive US gymnasts can be exposed to high levels of flame retardants through the foam-containing equipment (e.g., pit cubes, landing mats) used in gyms. In a study of 11 collegiate U.S. gymnasts, levels of the PentaBDE congener BDE153 in blood (serum) were 4-6 times higher compared to the general U.S. population, and similar to an occupationally exposed population of foam cutters and carpet installers [1,2]. Levels of the PentaBDE congener BDE47 were not as elevated and may reflect higher past exposures as BDE153 persists for years longer in the body than BDE47. Levels of PentaBDE, TBB and TBPH on the gymnast’s hands were 2−3 times higher after practice compared to before. Other flame retardants such as triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) and chlorinated tris (TDCIPP) that have been used to replace PentaBDE since it was phased out in 2005 were found at elevated levels in the gymnasts’ urine after practice compared to before practice . Flame retardants enter our bodies through inhalation, ingestion and dermal absorption. Accidentally ingesting dust through hand to mouth contact is thought to be an important way the general population is exposed to flame retardants .
While the study was small, it indicates that competitive gymnasts can experience higher exposures to PentaBDE flame retardants compared to the general US population.
Click the figure to enlarge. These are box plots comparing concentrations of PentaBDE congners in serum from from gymnasts to other populations. Each box delineates the 25th to 75th percentiles, the central line indicates the median, and the error bars indicate the minimum and maximum serum concentrations.
View the original manuscript for additional figures: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24195753. The figure in the published manuscript looks different because it compares gymnast blood levels to other populations using the geometric mean and 95% confidence intervals, which were used to determine whether there is a statistically significant difference between the gymnasts and the comparison populations.