Thyroid-disrupting effects caused by exposure to alternative flame retardants from groundwater contamination in rural central China

Fengchan Han, Guanghua Chen, Gonghua Tao, Jingshan Xu, Huijun Zhang, Ling Zhang, Hongliang Li, Yijing Zhao, Dajun Tian, Susana Y. Kimura, Xiao Wei, Yuanyuan Ruan, Chunfeng Wu, Shuo Xiao, Ming Zhan, Weiwei Zheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Accumulating evidence reveals that exposure to alternative flame retardants (AFRs) results in defective thyroid functions. AFRs are detectable in various environmental media in developed cities in China. However, few studies have reported the contamination levels of AFR in groundwater in rural areas, indicating an urgent need to investigate exposure of AFRs and perform health risk assessment for populations that use groundwater as the main source of drinking water. This study investigated the concentrations of AFRs in groundwater in rural areas of central China. Moreover, Nthy-ori-3-1 cells were used to determine the thyroid cytotoxicities and thyroid–interfering effects of a single AFR as well as the mixtures of AFRs based on the AFR contamination levels in real-world. The results revealed that all classes of AFRs were detectable in rural areas in central China. Dechlorane plus, hexabromocyclododecane, bromophenols (BPs), novel brominated flame retardants (NBFRs) and organophosphate flame retardants (OPFRs) exhibited spatial contamination patterns, with an average concentrations (median) of 157.89 ± 88.61 (185.47) pg/L, 0.09 ± 0.29 (not detectable) ng/L, 5.20 ± 5.92 (3.43) ng/L, 3338.11 ± 3758.78 (2836.72) pg/L, and 79.35 ± 97.19 (53.62) ng/L, respectively. The half maximal effective concentrations (EC50) of BPs, OPFRs, and NBFRs ranged 98.4–4012 μM, 42.0–2506 μM, and 10.1–203.7 μM, respectively. Several AFRs exhibited more cytotoxic effects than did traditional brominated flame retardants. It is intriguing that several single AFRs and mixtures at environmentally-relevant exposure levels promoted the viability of Nthy-ori-3-1 cells. Taken together, our study demonstrates that AFRs are present in the groundwater in rural areas in central China and AFRs exhibit thyroid disrupting effects.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number156300
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Sep 15 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


  • Alternative flame retardants
  • Detection concentration
  • Groundwater
  • Rural areas
  • Thyroid cytotoxicities
  • Thyroid-disrupting effects


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