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Ask EWG: Do flame-retardant chemicals on furniture accumulate in breast milk?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Question: Is it true that flame-retardant chemicals in upholstered furniture accumulate in women's breast milk? If so, what kind of hazard does this pose to an infant that consumes the breast milk?

Answer: Yes, it is true that foam used in pre-2005 upholstered furniture, mattresses, and carpet padding may contain neurotoxic flame retardants called PBDEs. These chemicals have been shown to impair attention, learning, memory, and behavior at low levels in laboratory studies. Studies worldwide have found them to be building up rapidly in people, animals, and the environment, and levels in the United States and Canada are by far the highest compared to levels in other countries. EWG's nationwide study found high levels of PBDEs in the breast milk of every American mother tested. PBDEs are still used in electronics like computers and televisions, which may be an ongoing source of exposure for people.

But breast feeding is important for many health reasons. Health professionals advise that women always breast feed when they can. Simple steps to reduce your exposures to PBDEs include using a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter, and avoiding direct contact with the foam in older furniture and mattresses. There are some regulatory proposals being considered across the country that would get PBDEs out of the few remaining types of products in which they are used, including TVs and computers. Check out our report for more information and related news.

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