Flame Retardant Chemical Found at High Levels in Children

Household dust and food are being blamed for very high levels of a toxic chemical in California children. The flame retardant chemical, <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/toxic_substances">polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), was found in high levels, according to an emerging study, wrote WebMD.

The Mexican-American children, whose mothers emigrated from Mexico before the births, had PBDE levels seven times greater than similar-aged Mexican born and raised children, said WebMD. “The only levels that we’ve seen in the literature that are higher than the California children blood levels are children living on a hazardous waste site in Nicaragua,” said Brenda Eskenazi, PhD, a study researcher and director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the University of California, Berkeley, quoted WebMD.

The team studied children with similar ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds whose mothers were from the same Mexican states. The research revealed the California children had higher PBDE levels than their mothers, indicating that the toxins did not originate from their mothers’ milk, as earlier studies suggested, Eskenazi said, wrote WebMD. Household dust and food are the likely culprits, she noted.

“The chemical essentially just evaporates and comes out of your household furniture and your household plastics and so it’s actually dust exposure to children that’s causing these high levels,” says David Andrews, PhD, a chemist and senior scientist with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG), quoted WebMD.

PBDEs have been used in consumer products since the 1970s, when new fire safety standards were imposed in the U.S. Common in foam furniture, electronics, fabrics, carpets, plastics, and other common household products, PBDEs can harm neurodevelopment, lower thyroid hormones, and change sex hormone levels, according to animal studies. They can also leach into the environment and be stored in fat cells. Dust containing PBDEs has been found in homes, and studies have found that 97 percent of Americans have detectable PBDE levels in their blood.

Pediatric studies have linked PBDEs to issues with brain development, learning, attention, and behavior; adults with high PBDE levels have experienced difficulty conceiving, menstrual cycle issues, lowered sperm counts, and thyroid hormone alterations, explained WebMD.

Three PBDEs—pentaBDE, octaBDE and decaBDE—were developed for commercial use as flame retardants. PentaBDE and octaBDE are banned in several states but are still in products made before 2004. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that three major manufacturers of decaBDE will phase out this product by 2013. “Even though the ones that we have the highest concerns about are no longer being produced, they can still break down into these other forms,” said Andrews, quoted WebMD. PBDEs take a considerable amount of time to break down, adding to their pervasiveness. In fact, a study last year found PBDEs in butter, said WebMD.

Eskenazi and her team enrolled pregnant women from low-income, Spanish-speaking farm workers in Salinas Valley, California for their 1999-2000 study. For their 2006 study, they looked at a similar population in Mexican locations from where the California group were from; 264 Californian and 283 Mexican children were involved and all had health care access and received government aid, noted WebMD. Most were breastfed.

Earlier this year we wrote that a report published in Environmental Health Perspectives, also by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that PBDEs could have an impact on female fertility, rendering women 30 to 50 percent less likely to conceive in any given month versus women with lower levels.

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