Some television screens contain dangerous substances which could be harmful to human health

Your home could be contaminated by toxic chemicals used to make computer, smartphone and television displays.

Scientists have found a vast array of dangerous substances lurking inside innocent-looking household dust.

Their research ‘sounds the alarm’ about the contamination of our homes by ‘liquid crystal monomers’ found in ‘everything from flat-screen TVs to solar panels’.

‘These chemicals are semi-liquid and can get into the environment at any time during manufacturing and recycling, and they are vaporized during burning,’ said environmental toxicologist John Giesy of the University of Saskatchewan.

‘Now we also know that these chemicals are being released by products just by using them.

‘We don’t know yet whether this a problem, but we do know that people are being exposed, and these chemicals have the potential to cause adverse effects.’

Professor John Giesy inspects a sample in his lab at the University of Saskatchewa Toxicology Centre (Image: Daniel Hallen/ USASK)

During their ‘first-of-its-kind’ research, scientists drew up a list of 362 commonly used liquid crystal monomers which are used in 10 different industries

They also tested the toxicity of monomers commonly found in six frequently used smartphone models.

The researchers found the ‘specific monomers isolated from the smartphones were potentially hazardous to animals and the environment’.

In lab testing, the chemicals inhibited animals’ ability to digest nutrients and disrupted the proper functioning of the gallbladder and thyroid.

They were found to have an effect similar to dioxins and flame retardants which are known to cause toxic effects in humans and wildlife.

To understand how common these monomers are in our environment, researchers tested dust gathered from seven different buildings in China – a canteen, student dormitory, teaching building, hotel, personal residence, lab, and electronics repair facility.

Nearly half of the 53 samples tested positive for the liquid crystal monomers.

‘Ours is the first paper to list all of the liquid crystal monomers in use and assess their potential to be released and cause toxic effects,’ said Giesy.

‘We looked at over 300 different chemicals and found that nearly 100 have significant potential to cause toxicity.’

Some of the monomers accumulate inside the bodies of humans or other organisms. They also do not biodegrade when left in the environment and can be ‘transported long distances in the atmosphere’.

Almost one-quarter of the chemicals tested had all three of these ‘troubling characteristics’.

‘There are currently no standards for quantifying these chemicals, and no regulatory standards,’ said Giesy.

‘We are at ground zero.’

LCD panels are almost exclusively produced in three Asian countries: China, Japan, and South Korea. It’s estimated that 198 million square metres of liquid crystal display were produced last year.

‘Since there are more and more of these devices being made, there’s a higher chance of them getting into the environment,’ said Giesy.

The team said vast amounts of e-waste including LCD screens is being dumped in landfills or disposed of in some other dangerous manner.

“Right now, there are no measurements of these monomers in surface waters. Our next steps are to understand the fate and effect of these chemicals in the environment,” Giesy added.

Giesy was the first researcher to find that toxic perfluorinated and polyfluorinated chemicals were widespread and had contaminated the environment.

This research resulted in the entire class of chemicals being banned globally.


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