Effects of chemicals in flame retardants
New study indicates chemicals found in flame retardants may effect the intelligence of young children.
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The Environmental Protection Agency's administrator, Lisa Jackson, recently laid out her top priorities for the coming year. And right at the top of the list: Improving chemical safety.
"We will be accelerating work on chemicals of concern and supporting reform of our nation's chemical laws so that they keep pace with the chemical industry," said Jackson.
The brominated chemicals in flame-retardants known as PBDEs raise red flags for health researchers. Scientists now report a link between PBDEs in the blood and reduced IQ in young children.
Julie Herbstman, from the Columbia University Center for Children's Environmental Health in New York, helped write the study which tested pregnant women and their babies.
Herbstman and her team measured the PBDEs in the umbilical cord blood of about 329 non-smoking, healthy, pregnant women living in New York. The researchers then followed their children over time and monitored their neurodevelopment using standard tests.
They found that the kids with the highest levels of PBDEs in their umbilical cord blood scored on average lower on these neurodevelopmental tests.
"At four years the tests measure something like IQ, and what we found was that there were about five points difference," said Herbstman. "So, the kids with the highest exposure scored on average about five points lower than the kids with the lower prenatal exposures."
According to Herbstman, the primary exposure is thought to be dietary. For infants, this includes breast milk. Researchers also believe there is the possibility of exposure from ingestion of dust containing PBDEs.
The EPA is taking a closer look at PBDEs, and some of them are already in the process of being phased out.
"Recently, EPA has listed these chemicals as 'chemicals of concern' and that means that they'll require more testing," said Herbstman. "Some states like California, Hawaii and New York have banned the manufacture, use, or sale of these compounds."
Herbstman says there are ways consumers can minimize exposure to PBDEs. Since the chemicals are used in foam and textiles, she suggests checking car seats or mattress pads and throwing them out if they're torn. She adds that vacuuming with a special filter might be effective in removing PBDEs-laden dust.
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