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Being a gymnast has its risks—the countless jumps, twists, and landings can take a toll on the body. But there's another, invisible risk: the equipment used in training contains hazardous flame retardant chemicals that accumulate in air and dust, and eventually end up in the athletes' bodies. A new study, however, shows that replacing the foam cubes in the landing pits with flame retardant-free alternatives can significantly lower their exposures.
Previous studies have found high levels of flame retardants in dust at gym facilities, at levels an order of magnitude higher than in other indoor spaces. Studies have also shown high levels in the bodies of U.S. collegiate gymnasts, up to six times higher compared with the general population. One important source is the soft foam pits gymnasts use for practicing dismounts and other aerial work. The pits are filled with cubes made of polyurethane foam that are typically treated with flame retardant chemicals.
Foam - Flame - Air - Dust - Skin
Rather than staying put in the foam, the flame retardants migrate into air and dust where they can be ingested and inhaled; they can also be absorbed through the skin. Scientists are concerned about exposure to flame retardants because the chemicals have been associated with health effects including thyroid problems, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), weight gain, infertility, and cancers.
"Gymnasts are particularly at risk because so much of their training happens during childhood and adolescence, when their bodies are developing and are vulnerable to chemical exposures," says lead author Courtney Carignan, an epidemiologist at Michigan State University and a former gymnast herself. "And competitive athletes and coaches may have higher levels of these chemicals in their bodies than recreational gymnasts because they spend more time in the gym," she says.
Health - Risks - Frequency - Exposures - Colleagues
Given the health risks and the frequency of exposures, she and her colleagues decided to conduct an intervention study in which...
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