Most Gymnasts Regularly Exposed to Flame Retardants Interview with:

Courtney Carignan PhD Research Fellow Department of Environmental Health Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Dr. Courtney Carignan

Courtney Carignan PhD
Research Fellow
Department of Environmental Health
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health What is the background for this study?

Response: We collected urine samples from a team of 11 collegiate gymnasts before and after a gymnastics practice. There were higher levels of flame retardants in samples collected after practice compared to before, indicating that the gymnastics training environment is a source of exposure to these chemicals. We previously measured elevated levels of flame retardants in the air and dust of the gym. Foam equipment appears to be the primary source of flame retardants to the gym, especially foam in the loose foam pit, which is used by gymnasts to learn new skills safely.

Over the past several decades, flame retardant chemical have been used in foam, such as in upholstered furniture, and electronics. They easily escape these products and enter the air, dust and our bodies. Most Americans have flame retardant chemicals in their bodies. There is growing concern about the harmful effects of many of these chemicals such that some have been phased out of use. What are the main findings?

Response: We have identified flame retardants in 25 of 28 pit cube samples collected from across the U.S. Gyms tell me they have been asked by their Fire Marshall to purchase equipment that meets certain flammability standards. However, those standards did not consider the long term health effects of exposure to these chemicals. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: That gymnasts can reduce their exposure to flame retardants by washing their hands with soap and water (not just hand sanitizer) after practice and asking their gym to try to purchase equipment free of flame retardants in the future. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: I’m currently facilitating a study of pit cubes and fire safety that will provide information useful to gyms. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Learn more and receive updates by visiting the Gymnast Flame Retardant Collaborative website or Facebook page: Thank you for your contribution to the community.

Courtney C. Carignan, Mingliang Fang, Heather M. Stapleton, Wendy Heiger-Bernays, Michael D. McClean, Thomas F. Webster. Urinary biomarkers of flame retardant exposure among collegiate U.S. gymnasts. Environment International, 2016;
DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2016.06.030

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on July 29, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD