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Toddlers' PBDE exposure (and some Queen for good measure)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

PBDE_flame_retardant_baby.gifI’m warning you now: read this post and you may find yourself humming a particular song for the rest of the day.

Science News has an article this week about human exposure to flame retardants (PBDEs) through dust. PBDEs are linked to cancer and problems with brain development (in neonatal mice) and neurobehavioral problems (in the same mice in adulthood), and now they’re linked to thyroid disorder in cats. They’re everywhere, in all of us, and they’re bioaccumulative (like PCBs – they build up in bodies and in the food supply).

The article, titled Don’t Bite the Dust (can’t you hear that catchy baseline now?) examines the higher blood-PBDE levels of toddlers and children, which researchers theorize may be due to their higher exposure to PBDE-laden dust (a subject EWG examined back in 2004: In The Dust). They’re crawling around on the floor, chewing on toys made of materials that attract dust, breathing air much closer to the source of the dust. Plus, researchers have also found a positive correlation between PBDE residue in dust and PBDE levels in breast milk.

So. Children are being exposed to PBDEs at higher levels, and PBDEs are linked to serious illness in other mammals. But the human data “just aren’t in,” so what does the Science News article recommend?

You might want to vacuum more often. Oh, and limit your children’s intake of fish and high-fat dairy, which tend to have high PBDE content.

Sound advice, but um, gee… do you think maybe the government ought to do something about a set of chemicals that pose a known health risk to other animals, especially when our most vulnerable population is being exposed at such high levels?

EPA has supported voluntary phase-outs of certain PBDEs by industry, but those same varieties have been outright banned in the EU (and in Washington, as of earlier this year). Other PBDEs go virtually unregulated. The chemical industry should have to prove that their products are safe, but instead the burden of proof is placed on government and environmental health scientists to demonstrate that PBDEs are a health risk.

Ugh. Please note my disgust. But in the meantime, Science News is right – vacuum often, with a HEPA vacuum. And if your coworkers get on your case today for humming Another One Bites the Dust, you can blame me.