Flame retardant chemicals found in toddler’s blood

Flame retardant chemicals found in toddler’s blood

Fire retardant chemicals found in toddlers’ blood

By Liz Szabo, USA TODAY
A new study finds that young children have high levels of chemical fire retardants in their blood.
Toddlers and preschoolers had levels of the chemicals that were on average three times higher than their mothers’, according to a study of 20 families by the Environmental Working Group, which has campaigned against the chemicals for several years. The chemicals, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, are widely used in televisions, remote controls, computers, mattresses and other products.

Scientists are concerned that the chemicals cause brain damage in animals and may cause hyperactivity in children, says Jimmy Roberts, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on environmental health, who was not involved with the study. Doctors also are concerned that the chemicals affect the reproductive organs and hormone systems. A Danish study in 2007 found that boys whose mothers had high levels of fire retardants in their breast milk were more likely to have undescended testicles.

“The government should really look into taking greater steps to protecting our kids,” Roberts says.

Although Roberts says flame retardants may protect children by slowing the spread of fires, he says government regulators and manufacturers should find less toxic alternatives.

Babies and children are especially vulnerable to fire retardants, says Linda Birnbaum, senior toxicologist with the Environmental Protection Agency. Children are exposed through breastfeeding, as well as by crawling around in household dust, which is often highly contaminated with fire retardants. Babies may also be in greater danger because their bodies are still developing, she says.

Birnbaum notes that Americans tend to have much higher levels of fire retardants in their bodies than Europeans, because fire safety requirements in the USA are much stricter. Europe also more strictly limits the use of fire retardants, the report says.

Although two kinds of fire retardants, known as Penta and Octa, are no longer made in the USA, they are found in older products, the report says. Penta also may be found in imported in furniture. Roberts say the government should close that loophole. “If you are going to ban it in the U.S., then you should ban it in imports,” Roberts says.

Another fire retardant, called Deca, is still widely used. The report notes that some companies — such as Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and Samsung — no longer use Deca and are phasing out related fire retardants, according to the report.

John Kyte, a spokesman for an industry group called the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum, says the levels of fire retardants found in children in the study were low — an average of 62 parts per billion in children, compared to 25 parts per billion in their mothers.

Kyte notes that the bulk of research on fire retardants comes from animal studies.

“Flame retardants save actual human lives, and no illness, ailment or harm to any human anywhere has ever been reported as a result of exposure to Deca, even among those who work producing the material,” Kyte says. “Potential concerns such as those raised by this study are the reason scientists and regulators are looking closely at this issue, and we support such monitoring and analysis.”


Environmentalists say it may be impossible to completely avoid fire retardants because the chemicals are found in food and the dust created by many everyday products, but here are a few suggestions:

Inspect foam items. Replace anything with a ripped cover or foam that is misshapen or breaking down. If you can’t replace them, try to keep the covers intact.

Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, which are better at removing contaminants. HEPA-filter air cleaners also may reduce contaminants in the air.

Don’t reupholster foam furniture, which may contain fire retardants.

Be careful when removing old carpet padding, which may contain fire retardants. Vacuum and mop up as much as possible of the dust created when removing carpet padding.

Ask manufacturers what types of fire retardants they use. Opt for less flammable fabrics, such as leather, wool and cotton. Look for brands that have publicly committed to phasing out all brominated fire retardants: Acer, Apple, Eizo Nanao, LG Electronics, Lenovo, Matsushita, Microsoft, Nokia, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony-Ericsson and Toshiba.

Source: Environmental Working Group

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