Flame Retardants Linked to Children’s Health Issues

By Mina Kim, KQED

A sofa may contain up to two pounds of flame retardants. (Dan Buczynski/Flickr)

A sofa may contain up to two pounds of flame retardants. (Dan Buczynski/Flickr)

A new study finds flame retardants — chemicals used to make household items more fire resistant — are linked to lower IQs and poorer coordination in children.

The UC Berkeley study focuses on the effects of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs). That’s a class of chemicals that was widely used in California in furniture, baby products and electronics, until they were phased out in 2004 out of concerns they were toxic.

Still, the flame retardant continues to leech out of older household products said the study’s lead author Brenda Eskanazi. She’s a professor of maternal and child health at UC Berkeley.

“The couch that I own was purchased before 2004,” Eskanazi said. “As the foam in the couch disintegrates, the PBDEs will enter into the dust particles, and if I had a child that was crawling on the floor, that child will be exposed to that dust.”

Eskanzi recommends mopping, vacuuming and washing hands frequently to help reduce exposure to PBDEs.

Today’s research comes from the CHAMACOS study – a study based in Salinas Valley of hundreds of pregnant women and their children, born since 1999. For the flame retardants study, researchers took blood samples of more than 270 children when they were in their mothers’ wombs and again seven years later. The children received a battery of tests to gauge their attention span, fine motor skills and IQ.

“What we saw was that children had more problems in relationship to the amount of PBDEs in their mothers’ or their (own) blood,” Eskanazi said.

Officials with the American Chemistry Council which represents the chemical industry said in a statement that they “will need time to more thoroughly analyze the findings” and noted that a link is not clear evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship.

The study appears in Thursday’s issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the NIH.

Listen to Mina Kim’s story:

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