A new study performed by the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine has linked prenatal exposure to flame retardant chemicals to lower intelligence and hyperactivity in young children.
While these chemicals, known as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) have been mostly withdrawn from the U.S. market since 2004, many products in which they have been used still remain in our homes.
Considered safe for decades leading up to 2004, PBDEs were commonly used in polyurethane foam products, including mattress pads, foam pillows, carpeting and baby strollers, as well as electronics. However, in light of the new research, experts are urging us to ditch these old items whenever possible, especially if you or someone you love is pregnant.
Assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health at the University of Cincinnati and lead author of the study Aimin Chen writes, “in animal studies, PBDEs can disrupt thyroid hormone and cause hyperactivity and learning problems. Our study adds to several other human studies to highlight the need to reduce exposure to PBDEs in pregnant women.”
Chen and his team’s study involved measuring PBDE levels found in the blood samples collected from 309 pregnant women who were patients at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
The team also performed behavior and intelligence tests on the children of these women every year until they had reached age 5. Results displayed that a 10-fold increase in prenatal PBDE levels were linked to lowered IQ test results of about 4 points by the 5-year-old children of the women exposed.
Dr. Chen summarizes, “we found maternal exposure to PBDEs, a group of brominated flame retardants mostly withdrawn from the U.S. market in 2004, was associated with deficits in child cognition at age 5 years and hyperactivity at ages 2-5 years.”
As these types of chemicals do not biodegrade easily, they are stored in human tissues, sometimes for years, and are can be transferred to a developing fetus. According to Chen, “the study raises further concern about their toxicity in developing children.”
To minimize your exposure to PBDEs, the absolute best way is to discard any items older than 2004 that contain polyurethane foam. However, if this is simply not possible, such as in the case of carpeting and certain pieces of furniture, make sure to check that coverings over the foam are intact, and that foam is not misshapen. If foam is ripped or misshapen, the risk of PBDEs spreading through your immediate environment is greatly heightened.
PBDEs were also used in car seats and some mattress pads without complete coverings prior to 2004; beware of these. When purchasing new foam-containing items, avoid ‘natural’ or latex foam, and natural cotton, as these materials are highly flammable, and may contain toxic flame retardant chemicals, even if they do not fall into the class of PBDEs.
Electronics, to this day, often contain a form of PBDEs known as Deca-PBDEs. However, certain brands have taken the initiative to stop using these chemicals altogether. When purchasing new electronics, be sure to check with the manufacturer.
It is a scary thought that chemicals such as PBDEs can be on the market for decades or longer, without the adequate testing to ensure their safety. For this reason, it is greatly in the best interest of our health to make sure that the materials and products we surround ourselves with – especially baby and children’s products! – are as natural as possible in this modern world.
As technology advances, new tests will show that more and more chemicals that were once thought harmless, can in actuality cause significant harm.
-The Alternative Daily