Flame Retardants May Affect a Child's IQ

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Prenatal and childhood exposure to flame-retardant chemicals may lead to poorer attention, motor skills, and IQ scores in children at ages five and seven, according to an ongoing California study. The findings add to the growing health concerns over these chemicals, which are commonly found in US homes.

This study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, is important because it is the largest to compare exposures to flame retardants with attention, motor skills, and IQ of children. It is also the most comprehensive study to evaluate both prenatal and postnatal PBDE exposure in school-aged kids. The results confirm findings from previous research that links PBDE exposure to neurodevelopment effects in children.

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PBDEs are a class of flame retardants historically used in textiles, furniture, plastics and electronics to slow burning and suppress flames. Because they are mixed in rather than chemically bound to products, they can leach out and stick to particles like dust, dirt, and sediment.

PBDEs persist in the environment and can build up in people and wildlife where they may remain for years. Human exposure to PBDEs may occur through food, air, and dust.

In California, laws passed in the 1970s led to the use of these flame retardants in many consumer products. Children there have some of the highest measured PBDE levels in the world. On Friday, California officials announced a rule-change to its fire-safety standards that is expected to eliminate the use of flame retardants in furniture. However, the change will only apply to new products.

In the California study, researchers observed that the higher the exposure to PBDEs in mothers and children, the lower the children scored on the reasoning, verbal, and IQ tests. For example, the seven-year-olds born to mothers with high PBDE concentrations in blood had lower verbal IQs by about six points compared to children born to mothers with lower PBDE concentrations.

Children born to mothers with the highest levels of PBDEs were also more likely to have problems with attention and a higher probability of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The link between PBDEs and attention behaviors were seen in test performance at age five and with the mothers' reports at age five and seven.

Fine motor coordination followed a similar pattern for both age groups. The associations remained after researchers adjusted for several factors, including maternal age, number of children, education, and child's birth weight.

Some of the PBDEs measured in this study have been or will be phased out in the United States. However, the flame retardants are still detected in people and may continue to pose a health threat as the long-lived chemicals are released from aging products.

Overall, the results suggest that PBDE exposures should be minimized in susceptible populations, including pregnant women and children.

This report was originally published by EnvironmentalHealthNews.org

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