WEDNESDAY, May 28, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A new study bolsters
the concerns of some scientists that hazardous levels of fire
retardants in furniture and other products may harm children before
they are born.
A team of researchers from the University of Cincinnati, Canada
and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports
that the chemicals in the retardants may penetrate the bodies of
pregnant women. This may boost the risk that their children will be
hyperactive and have lower IQs.
The findings don't definitively prove that fire retardants cause
these problems; it's possible that other factors could be
responsible for lower IQ levels and higher rates of hyperactivity.
And even if there is an effect, it is small on an individual
Still, the study suggests that fire retardant chemicals might
disrupt the normal ways in which children develop.
"The paper is upsetting," said Steven Gilbert, director and founder of the Institute of Neurotoxicology & Neurological Disorders, who was not involved with the research. "I am really tired of our kids being needlessly exposed to harmful chemicals while we do little to correct the root causes."
At issue are chemicals known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers,
which are used as fire retardants in furniture, drapes, car seats,
TVs and other products. The chemicals, which slow the progress of
fire, make their way into people's bodies and even into wildlife
through dust and soil.
According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, which tracks the chemicals in the ocean, this kind
of fire retardant mostly vanished from the U.S. market about a
decade ago amid concerns that they were toxic. The chemicals can
still be found in new TVs and in older couches and other
In the new study, researchers tested 309 pregnant women in
Cincinnati from 2003-06 for levels of the chemicals in their
bodies. Then they tracked the women's children to see how they
fared on various tests and adjusted their statistics so they
wouldn't be thrown off by large or small numbers of women who fit
into various types of categories such as rich or poor.
The level of fire-retardant chemicals in the women's bodies
didn't appear to affect the way the kids developed physically and
mentally from ages 1 to 3. But at the age of 5, children of mothers
with the highest level of chemicals in their bodies were more
likely to have lower IQs (by 5 points) and to be more hyperactive
than other kids.
Does this matter? In the big picture, "a 5-point reduction in
the average IQ of U.S. children would result in a 57 percent
increase in children who have an IQ lower than 70 points," said
study co-author Dr. Bruce Lanphear, a health sciences professor at
Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Those children, he noted, would be considered mentally
"There would also be a corresponding decrease in the number of children who would be 'gifted,' " with an IQ above 130 points, Lanphear added.
Dr. Maida Galvez, an associate professor at Icahn School of
Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, advises consumers to look
for new furniture that includes the label "TB 117-2013," which
means it meets new standards set by California regarding fire
safety in products.
As for existing furniture and other products, it's possible to
send samples to labs for testing to see if they contain fire
retardants. A 2012 study found questionable fire retardant
chemicals in 85 percent of 102 couches tested.
Alternatively, "there are simple steps every family can take to
reduce exposures to flame retardant chemicals in the home," Galvez
said. "This includes wet mopping and wet dusting, ventilating the
home and frequent hand washing with basic soap and water. These
simple steps can reduce exposure to dust that may contain
Future research should focus on the effects of flame-retardant
exposure on adults and children, said study lead author Dr. Aimen
Chen, an assistant professor in the department of environmental
health at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
The study appears in the May 28 issue of the journal
Environmental Health Perspectives.
For more about avoiding chemical hazards while pregnant, try the
March of Dimes.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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