Children exposed to flame retardant chemicals in the womb are more likely to suffer from hyperactivity and to have a low IQ at the age of five, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
The study focused specifically on the class of flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). After California passed incredibly strict anti-flammability standards in the 1970s, PBDEs became ubiquitous in a wide variety of consumer products, particularly in the foam of upholstered furniture. After evidence emerged that PBDEs might cause hormone disruption and neurodevelopmental toxicity, manufacturers removed them from the US market in 2004, and they are banned in the European Union.
Yet because PBDEs accumulate in the fatty tissues of humans and other animals, they continue to persist in the environment (and in the human body) in significant quantities. In addition, many products manufactured before the ban are still on the market. Finally, furniture manufactured with PBDEs is still ubiquitous, and releases these toxic chemicals regularly in the form of indoor dust. Numerous studies have confirmed that biologically significant levels of PBDEs can be found in nearly every home and office, as well as in the body of nearly every person tested.
For the new study, researchers measured key BDE levels in 309 women during their 16th week of pregnancy, then followed them until their children were five years old. They found that a tenfold increase in blood concentrations of PBDEs during pregnancy was associated with a 4.5-point lower IQ score at age 5, comparable to the effect of lead exposure. This further supports the idea that PBDEs damage neurological development.
“The results from this and other observational human studies support efforts to reduce Penta-BDE exposures, especially for pregnant women and young children,” said researcher Bruce Lanphear of Simon Fraser University.
“Unfortunately, brominated flame retardants are persistent and North Americans are likely exposed to higher PBDE levels than people from other parts of the world. Because of this it is likely to take decades for the PBDE levels in our population to be reduced to current European or Asian levels.”
Other flame retardants no better
The researchers are planning to conduct further studies not just on the developmental effects of PBDEs, but also on the effects of some of the flame retardant chemicals used to replace PBDEs. Studies suggest that many of these chemicals, such as chlorinated tris, may be as bad or worse than PBDEs.
Other studies suggest that these chemicals do not even work as advertised, failing to reduce rates of household fires or of household-fire-related injury. In fact, chemical flame retardants may make the smoke from household fires more toxic; some researchers have suggested that the higher rates of certain cancers among firefighters might be due to exposure to such chemicals.
Fortunately, more and more products free of chemical flame retardants are becoming available. Earlier this year, the state of California implemented new flammability standards that only require upholstered furniture to resist the more realistic scenario of smoldering (such as from a dropped cigarette), rather than the more extreme condition of an open flame. These new rules allow the use of naturally flame-resistant fabrics, such as wool or jute, and are expected to affect the market nationwide.
“Consumers should verify that the furniture they are buying is free of flame retardants, especially when children will be exposed,” said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute.
You can also reduce your flame retardant exposure by dusting with a wet rather than a dry cloth, using HEPA filters in vacuum cleaners and central heating/cooling systems, and refraining from eating while sitting on furniture containing flame retardants.
(Natural News Science)