Washington: A new US study published on June 30 suggests that the surfaces in your office could be covered in a coating of toxic dust. Researchers discovered concentrations of a banned flame retardant called polybrominated dipheny ether (PBDE) on the hands of workers who spent at least 20 hours a week in an office.

The study evaluated 31 offices in Boston, Massachusetts, and researchers noted that the amount of PBDE on workers' hands was linked to how much was measured in their blood.

PBDEs were once widely used in computers and other electronics as well as the polyurethane foam padding in office chairs, furniture, and carpeting, so the chemicals are lurking in a lot of offices, even though they are now banned under the Stockholm Convention, a treaty to control and phase out major pollutants.

The Environment Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization empowering the public with health information, explains PBDEs can cause "thyroid hormone imbalance, fatigue, depression, anxiety, unexplained weight gain, hair loss and low libido." In prior studies, PBDEs have also been linked to infertility.

While you likely cannot avoid PBDEs altogether, researchers said the best way to cut your exposure is to wash your hands often with soap and water.

 In the study, workers who reported washing their hands four or more times per day tended to have lower levels of PBDEs on their hands than those who washed their hands less often. They also had, on average, three times lower concentrations of PBDEs in their blood.

According to Health Canada, PBDEs are also found in some fatty meats, fish, and dairy products. PollutioninPeople.org, a project of the Toxic-Free Legacy Coalition, says avoid farmed fish, especially farmed salmon from the UK or US and reduce animal fats from your diet.

(Agencies)