Limited information is available regarding exposure to flame retardants on commercial aircraft. A study of exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in aircraft found that while body burdens of PBDEs in air travelers were similar to levels measured in the general population, the post-flight body burdens were higher than pre-flight body burdens suggesting travel-related exposure. That study, the only peer-reviewed paper specific to environmental exposures to flame retardants on commercial aircraft, also reported concentrations of PBDEs in dust from aircraft that often exceed the highest dust concentrations found in homes.
In research associated with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airliner Cabin Environment Research (ACER), and in cooperation with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc., we collected air samples from commercial aircraft cabins (n = 22) and analyzed them for 4 PBDE congeners—BDEs 47, 99, 100, and 209.
Median concentrations for the 4 congeners were 2.0, ••• dl, ••• dl, and 0.68 ng/m3, respectively. For BDE 47, the median and maximum concentrations (maximum, 12.7 ng/m3) were an order of magnitude greater than median and maximum levels typically found in US homes. For BDE 209, the median concentration was similar to median levels in homes and the maximum concentration (2050 ng/m3) was an order of magnitude greater than the maximum air concentrations measured for occupationally exposed workers. Ongoing research includes analysis of additional air samples and dust samples for PBDEs and other flame retardants.
Along with consideration of potential exposures to the public, flight attendants' potential for prolonged exposures highlights the need for continued assessment of exposure to these compounds in commercial aircraft.
Although the FAA has sponsored this project, it neither endorses nor rejects the findings of this research. Results of Cooperative Research between the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc., and Battelle Memorial Institute.