We provide expertise in analytical and environmental chemistry

Chemicals of Emerging Concern

Man-made chemicals have become a part of everyday life.  There are about 85,000 chemicals in commerce, and about 2,500 new chemicals are introduced every year.  Very few of these chemical have had adequate toxicological studies to evaluate their health effects on humans and wildlife.

Because of improved methods for detecting chemicals in environmental and biological media, scientists can now identify previously unknown and unregulated “chemicals of emerging concern,” or CEC.  Many CEC are chemicals that persist in the environment, are present in humans or other living organisms, and may have the potential to cause adverse health effects.  Recent studies have shown that some of these chemicals can act as endocrine disruptors and may interfere with the reproductive and developmental processes of humans and wildlife species.

Some examples of CEC include brominated and organophosphate flame retardants, bisphenol-A and its substitutes, phthalates, arsenic, perchlorate, nonylphenols, synthetic musks and other personal care product ingredients, and industrial chemical additives, stabilizers and adjuvants.

ECL’s work on Chemicals of Emerging Concern

ECL has become a leader in identifying chemicals of emerging concern.  ECL scientists were the first to report the record levels of a class of flame retardants, i.e., polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs) in the blood of Californians.  This led to the first legislative ban in the US and to the protection of California’s children, adults, wildlife, and environment from PBDEs.  With the phase out of PBDEs, however, other flame retardants were introduced into products, some of which are known carcinogens.

ECL supports DTSC’s Safer Consumer Products Program by developing methods to identify chemicals that could present risks to Californians.  For example, ECL is working on new methods to efficiently detect and measure newer flame retardants, polyfluorinated and perfluorinated (PFAS) chemicals, synthetic musks and other fragrance compounds in environmental (ground water, dust) and biological (human and wildlife tissues) samples.

Screening Technique for Flame Retardants in Products

In September 2014, Governor Brown signed SB 1019 (Leno) into law, requiring the labeling of upholstered furniture for the presence or absence of flame retardants.   This law requires a manufacturer of upholstered furniture sold in California (“covered products”) to indicate whether or not the product contains added flame retardant chemicals, by appropriately marking the label affixed to the product.

The law is implemented by the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings, and Thermal Insulation (BEARHFTI) of the California Department of Consumer Affairs.  According to the new law, BEARHFTI will submit samples of “covered products” to DTSC for testing for the presence of flame retardants. Upon completion of the testing, DTSC will submit analytical results to BEARHFTI.

ECL has the capability to measure a number of chemical classes of flame retardants in “covered products”, including Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs such as PBDEs, constituents of Firemaster, etc.) and Organophosphate Flame Retardants (OPFRs, such as TDCIPP, TCEP, Triphenyl phosphate, etc.).

ECL scientists developed a stepwise approach to screen samples for the presence of Bromine (Br) and Phosphorus (P) in order to limit the number of samples that would require quantitation for specific BFRs and OPFRs, respectively.  X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) is used to screen for the presence of Br and Inductively Coupled Plasma – Optical Emission Spectrometry (ICP-OES) is used to identify and measure the concentration of P.   The same test samples were also analyzed for specific BFRs and OPFRs by gas chromatography – tandem mass spectrometry (GC-MS/MS) to demonstrate the applicability of the screening tests.  Liquid Chromatography/Time-of Flight mass spectrometry operated with electrospray ionization (LC/ESI-QTOF) is used to explore and screen for flame retardants not included in the current list of chemicals measured by GC-MS/MS.

This work was captured in: Petreas M, Gill R, Takaku-Pugh S, Lytle E, Parry E, Wang M, Quinn J, Park J-S. “Rapid methodology to screen flame retardants in upholstered furniture for compliance with new California labeling law (SB 1019)”. Chemosphere, 152:353–359, 2016.

ECL scientists will continue to expand the number of chemicals they measure to support BEARHFTI.  Newer methodologies for additional flame retardants will be posted as they become available.