Chemicals used as flame retardants are present as environmental pollutants all around the globe, including remote sites in Indonesia, Nepal and Tasmania, where no one wears clothes that are treated with these chemicals.

Researcher Amina Salamova says, "These findings illustrate further that flame retardants are ubiquitous pollutants and are found all around the world, not only in biota and humans but also in plants."

A new study measured concentrations of brominated and chlorinated flame retardants collected in tree bark samples at 12 locations around the globe: three sites in Canada and single sites in Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Czech Republic, South Africa, Nepal, Indonesia, Tasmania and American Samoa.

The highest concentrations were found at an urban site near Toronto. However, the second-highest concentration of one type of flame retardant, Dechlorane Plus, was found at a remote site at Bukit Kototabang in Indonesia. Researchers don’t know the cause of the relatively high concentrations at that site.

Brominated and chlorinated flame retardants have been used for several decades in consumer products made of plastic, foam, wood and textiles to prevent combustion and slow the spread of fire. They persist in the environment and bio-accumulate in ecosystems and in human tissues. Exposure to the compounds has been associated with thyroid and other endocrine system disruption, which is why the production and use of certain flame retardants has been restricted in North America and the European Union.

But that hasn’t stopped them from (somehow) traveling all around the world.

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