Blood Levels of Toxic Fire Retardants Declining in Kids

Blood Levels of Toxic Fire Retardants Declining in Kids

Blood levels of a flame retardant have fallen in American children since use of the chemicals was banned in consumer products, a new study finds.

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Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) were once widely used in household items, such as couches, mattresses, carpet padding and other upholstered items.

In 2004, pentaBDE -- a specific mixture of PBDEs -- began to be phased out from these items due to concerns about possible health effects.

In this study, researchers took blood samples from 334 children in New York City at birth and at ages 2, 3, 5, 7 and 9 years, to check for BDE-47, the most-often detected component of pentaBDE in humans.

Levels of BDE-47 in the children fell about 5 percent a year between 1998 and 2013. When blood samples collected at birth weren't included, the researchers found that levels of BDE-47 fell 13 percent a year between 2000 and 2013.

Children who were 2 or 3 years old before the phase-out in 2004-2005 had significantly higher levels of BDE-47 in their blood than did children at those ages after the phase-out, according to the study authors.

Before and after the phase-out, children had higher blood levels of BDE-47 at ages 2 and 3 than at any other age. That's possibly because they spend more time on the floor and have more contact with PBDE-containing dust at this age, the study authors suggested.

But even though blood levels of these chemicals in children are falling, they were found in every child tested, the findings showed.

"These findings suggest that while pentaBDE levels have been decreasing since the phase-out, they continue to be detected in the blood of young children nearly 10 years following their removal from U.S. commerce," said study first author Whitney Cowell.

Cowell is a pediatric environmental health research fellow at Mount Sinai in New York City. She is a former doctoral student at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health, where the study was done.

Previously, researchers at the center linked PBDE exposure with attention deficits and lower scores on tests of mental and physical development in children, they noted in a Columbia University news release.

According to study senior author Julie Herbstman, "These findings reinforce the decision to phase-out PBDEs from consumer products."

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However, Herbstman, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia, added that "it's important to remain vigilant. Since the phase-out of PBDEs, we have begun to detect other flame-retardant chemicals in children, which are likely being used as replacements."

The study was published April 4 in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.

More information

The Washington state Department of Health has more on PBDEs.


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