But the scientists who conducted the new study aren’t convinced so they are now following up their aircraft study with tests of flight attendants. Results are expected later this year.
“Several flight attendants in [Schecter’s] study did have elevated serum concentrations…The weight of evidence certainly suggests that we need to continue to examine this,” said Joseph Allen, a Harvard School of Public Health research associate and lead author of the study.
Complicating matters, Deca, the most prevalent flame retardant on airplanes, is very difficult to detect in the body, Stapleton said. The amount that gets into the bloodstream is small, so the chemical can escape detection. Also, Deca is bulky so dust coated with it might not pass through the lungs to the bloodstream. If it does pass into blood, it doesn't stay there long, so unless a person is tested soon after a flight, researchers might miss spikes in concentrations.
Although no one knows if flame retardants or other chemicals play a role, flight attendants are more likely to have cancer and miscarriages than the general public.
Female flight attendants have a 29 percent higher risk of all cancers, including more than an 11-times greater risk of melanoma and a 35 percent higher risk of breast cancer than the general public. The longer a flight attendant has been working, the greater the risk of cancer, research suggests.
They also have a 62 percent higher risk of miscarriage and stillbirth than the general public, according to 2010 study, which says these risks "have been poorly studied in a limited number of investigations." The Association of Professional Flight Attendants says that their flight attendants are allowed to fly during the first 28 weeks of pregnancy.
The triggers of these health problems are still under investigation, and researchers are studying a number of possible culprits, such as radiation.
This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.