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Keeping Flame Retardants Out Of Children's Blood

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, September 04, 2008 11:46 AM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family, In The Workplace
Tags: Toxins, Environmental Toxins, Plastics, BPA, Flame Retardants, PBDE, Toxic Substances

Participants in an Environmental Working Group report have three to six times the flame retardants in their blood as their mothers.

Ruby had more than six times the concentration of flame retardants in her blood than her mother.



IMAGE SOURCE: Katrina and Ruby, study participants/ Courtesy: EWG


The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found a fire retardant chemical used in electronics, toys, and furniture in children’s blood at triple the levels found in their mothers.

EWG is a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit group that studies environmental toxins. 

It conducted a pilot study of 20 families, taking blood samples from mothers and young children up to the age of four.  They were looking for PBDEs or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, a hormone-disrupting pollutant that builds up in the body.

In the report, the group found that 19 out of 20 times, the toddlers had three times the concentration of 11 different flame retardants than their mothers. One child had six times the level of the chemical.

That may be because children have more contact with the chemicals found in homes and tend to put their hands in their mouths.

"To us, this raises concerns that kids live very differently in the same environment than their parents do and those kid-like behaviors put them at risk for contaminant exposure," said Sonya Lunder, the study author said in a telephone interview to Reuters.

Two forms of PBDEs (Penta and Octa) are not longer made in the U.S., but can be found in furniture imported to the U.S.

Other PBDEs are found in:

  • Mattresses used as flame retardants
  • Remote controls, computers and televisions
  • Foam used for furniture, under carpets
  • Power strips and routers
  • Entertainment systems
  • Child car seats
  • Curtains and drapes, water heaters, lamp sockets
  • Mobile phones, fax machines
  • Children’s pajamas

The largest amount of PBDE may come from electronics in a form called Deca, which is banned from use in European electronics. EWG reports it has largely escaped restrictions in the U.S. because few labs can test for it.

But Deca may come in contact with children because of behaviors such as touching furniture or appliances that contain PBDEs and eating and drinking more from containers that contain these chemicals. PBDE is also found in fish, meat and dairy.

One study participant, Katrina Alcorn says, "At first it was upsetting to know that Ruby had fairly high levels of PBDEs in her body. But it becomes even more upsetting when you think about the implications for all our children. There's nothing about our lifestyle that would put us at risk. If our levels are high, then yours probably are, too."

Just how toxic they are remains a mystery. But in studies on mice, when given a single dose of PBDEs in a single day, saw changes in their growing brains that can cause permanent behavior changes including hyperactivity.  

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a committee on environmental health, was not involved in the study, but is aware of the reports of brain damage and hyperactivity in children as well as changes in the reproductive and hormone systems.

Jimmy Roberts of the AAP tells USA Today, “The government should really look into taking greater steps to protecting our kids,”

Linda Birnbaum of the EPA says the children are especially vulnerable because they are exposed through breast milk and dust often highly contaminated with flame retardants. And their exposure occurs at a time when they are developing.

The National Toxicology Program reports that there are 80,000 chemicals in circulation in our environment and 2,000 new ones approved annually with minimal oversight on the impact on human health.

The Precautionary Principle is an attitude toward toxins that dictates asking more questions and adopting a guilty until proven innocent approach, similar to the European Union.

A trade group, Bromine Science and Environment Forum issued a statement that even the highest levels of PBDEs were relatively low in the children.  And flame retardants save lives, a group spokesman said in an e-mail to Reuters.  No illness has ever been reported as a result of exposure to Deca, even in an industrial setting said John Kyte. 

The group supports continuing monitoring and an analysis of “potential concerns” raised by the Environmental Working Group. 

EWG includes 10 Tips For A Healthy Home guide.

What Can You Do?

  • Use HEPA filters in your vacuum
  • Avoid foam furniture which may contain fire retardants
  • Vacuum carpet padding with fire retardants when removing it
  • Ask a manufacturer! The more questions the less likely they’ll opt for them.
  • Choose natural fabrics, leather, wool cotton that are less flammable.
  • Use your purchasing power! When purchasing new products look for these brands, which have publicly committed to phasing out all brominated fire retardants: Acer, Apple, Eizo Nanao, LG Electronics, Lenovo, Matsushita, Microsoft, Nokia, Phillips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony-Ericsson, and Toshiba are phasing out bromine-based fire retardants.

Check the Environmental Working Group website for more suggestions.  #

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