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Fire Retardants in Toddlers and Their Mothers

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fire Retardants in Toddlers and Their Mothers

Levels Three Times Higher in Toddlers Than Moms

In the first investigation of toxic fire retardants in parents and their children, Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that toddlers and preschoolers typically had 3 times as much of these hormone-disrupting chemicals in their blood as their mothers.

The 20 children we tested had an average of 3.2 times more fire retardants polluting their blood than their mothers.

Laboratory tests – conducted for EWG by one of the world’s leading scientific authorities on fire retardants – found that in 19 of 20 U.S. families, concentrations of the chemicals known as PBDEs were significantly higher in 1.5- to 4-year-old children than their mothers. In total 11 different flame retardants were found in these children, and 86 percent of the time the chemicals were present at higher levels in the children than their mothers.

The tests also found a form of PBDEs known as Deca, a heavily used flame retardant that has largely escaped restrictions because few labs can reliably test for it. The tests showed Deca more often and in higher concentrations on average in children than their mothers. These high exposures early in life point to a previously undocumented, serious, and disproportionate risk to young children.

Eight of the 20 mothers we tested were also part of earlier EWG studies that found high levels of PBDEs in human breast milk and household dust. EWG tests of umbilical cord blood also found PBDEs in 10 of 10 newborns. The current study is the first to show that U.S. children have much higher levels of PBDEs in their blood than their parents and in fact bear some of the heaviest burdens of flame retardant pollution in the industrialized world.

Kristi & Stella: "I chose not to learn the results of our tests because that would only lead to one thing – increased anxiety on my part. Instead, I chose to direct my energy on insisting that the government enact real protection for our children and ourselves. The burden of responsibility should not fall on my daughter's small shoulders, but on those of the manufacturers and legislators who have the power to protect her, and all of us."

PBDEs in everyday items like furniture, computers, televisions and other electronics migrate into the home environment and could expose children to concentrations exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended safe level. Children ingest more PBDEs than adults because they stick to kids’ hands, toys or other objects they put in their mouths.

Children’s developing brains and reproductive systems are extraordinarily vulnerable to toxic chemicals. In the case of PBDEs, laboratory tests in peer-reviewed studies have found that a dose administered to mice on a single day when the brain is growing rapidly can cause permanent changes to behavior, including hyperactivity. Children's bodies may not metabolize and excrete toxic chemicals as readily as adults.

PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are global pollutants that build up in the blood and tissues of people and other living things. Two forms of PBDEs known as Penta and Octa are no longer made in the U.S. because of health and safety concerns, but are still found in furniture and foam items made before the phase-out was complete. The largest volume of PBDEs are used in electronics in a form known as Deca. Deca is banned in European electronics and in some U.S. states.

The chemical industry is waging a high-stakes effort to keep Deca on the market, claiming it poses no health risk. But EWG’s tests show that Deca enters people’s bodies, and is polluting children’s blood at much higher levels than adults’. Deca was detected in 65 percent of children and 45 percent of adults.

Laura Spark with twin daughters Naomi & Lea: Naomi had 6 times more PBDEs in her body than her mom did even though they live in the same home and eat the same foods.

Even as the chemical industry insists Deca is safe, manufacturers are moving away from the use of all chemical fire retardants and have found they can achieve fire safety through smarter product design. Major electronics manufacturers including Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and Samsung no longer use Deca and are phasing out other bromine-based fire retardants.

Despite the evidence that PBDEs are harmful, that they pollute people’s blood, and that safer alternatives are available, the EPA has done little to address children’s ongoing exposure. Deca remains widely used, and a regulatory loophole allows Penta, one of the PBDEs banned earlier, to enter the U.S. in imported furniture. Until Deca is banned in all consumer products, Penta is banned from imports, and fire safety regulations are revised to promote non-chemical solutions, American families – and especially their children – will continue to be needlessly exposed to these harmful compounds.