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Studies Show Flame Retardants Seep Into Children and Pregnant Women

Researcher says 'shocking' levels of flame retardants found in children's blood may stunt growth and lead to lower intelligence.
 
 
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In toxicology circles, Californians are notorious for the record-high concentrations of flame-retardant chemicals coursing through their bodies.

The state has some of the strictest flammability standards in the world. To meet these requirements, manufacturers of upholstered furniture and certain cushioned baby products (such as high chairs, strollers and nursing pillows) infuse their wares with these toxic and inexpensive chemicals.

Two new studies look at concentrations of flame retardants in pregnant women and children.

The first study, conducted by researchers at UC Berkeley, found that a class of these chemicals, known as PBDEs, can alter thyroid levels in pregnant women. Thyroid hormones are critical to a baby’s growth and brain development.

This is the first research to show these chemicals can alter hormone levels in pregnant women.

Although the effects of these flame retardants on developing babies are unknown, researchers suggest they may stunt growth and lead to lower intelligence.

“Normal maternal thyroid hormone levels are essential for normal fetal growth and brain development, so our findings could have significant public health implications,” said Jonathan Chevrier, a UC Berkeley epidemiologist and lead author of the study, in an interview with the Environmental Health Network.

The two flame retardants tested – penta and octa PBDE – have been banned in the United States since 2006. However, they are still found in sofas and high chairs manufactured before that year.

The researchers did not look at another PBDE, known as deca, or other similar flame retardants.

The Berkeley researchers tested the blood of 270 pregnant women in California’s Salinas Valley. The researchers will now follow the children of these women to see what effects, if any, the chemicals had on their development.

The study was published was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The other study, conducted by the Environmental Working Group and Stockholm University, found that children have nearly three times the level of these chemicals in their blood than adults.

The study echoed others published earlier this year that linked elevated PBDEs in children to decreased IQ and other neurodevelopmental impairments.

Ake Bergman, one of the Stockholm researchers, told Chemical and Engineering News that he was shocked by a recent study, which found that children’s PBDE levels are higher than those in adults occupationally exposed to the chemicals.

The level in these children, who were from California, was twice as high as those found in the current study, which included children from across the country.

Susanne Rust is an investigative reporter for California Watch focused on the environment.