(CN) – Don’t take a deep breath and don’t touch anything: Researchers have discovered a mysterious chemical is abundant in homes, the natural environment and electronic recycling facilities. It can be absorbed through the skin or by breathing, is difficult to track and largely unregulated by the federal government.
The novel chemical compound, tri(2,4-di-t-butylphenyl) phosphate or TDTBPP, can be used as a flame retardant and also makes plastics less brittle.
Many commercial chemicals do not receive regulatory oversight from the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act unless they’re used for new purposes, according to the authors of the study published Tuesday in Environmental Science & Technology. This makes it difficult for environmental chemists to track compounds like TDTBPP and what impacts it could have.
Researchers from Indiana University only found TDTBPP because they did a general environmental scan, which included studying dust from 20 homes in Ontario, Canada, and outdoor samples from southwestern Lake Michigan. They also studied dust found in an e-waste facility in Ontario, as chemicals similar to TDTBPP are used to produce plastics, wires, printed circuit boards and other electronic equipment.
While they also measured the amount of TDTBPP in the air, water and soil, house dust surprisingly showed high levels of TDTBPP according to the study.
Marta Venier, a scientist at the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, said they did not have to look far for the chemical.
“The fact that this potentially toxic chemical is so abundant, but was previously unknown, is another example of the ineffective management of chemicals in the United States,” said Venier.
Now that scientists know it’s there, TDTBPP can be flagged for further study and to determine its impact on people.
Authors of the study included staff from Indiana University, Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, Canada’s Environment and Climate Change and the University of Toronto.