WASHINGTON – In the first nationwide investigation of chemical fire retardants in parents and their children, Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that toddlers and pre-schoolers typically had 3 times more of the neurotoxic compounds in their blood than their mothers. The study suggests that U.S. children 1 to 4 years of age bear the heaviest burden of flame retardant pollution in the industrialized world.
Laboratory tests – conducted in collaboration with Dr. Åke Bergman, a preeminent environmental chemist – found that in 19 of 20 U.S. families, concentrations of the toxic chemicals known as PBDEs were significantly higher in 1- to 4-year-old children than in their mothers. The tests found the fire retardant Deca, banned in Europe but unregulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more often and in higher amounts in U.S. children than their mothers.
In 2003 EWG published test results showing that the average level of fire-retardants in breast milk from 20 American moms was 75 times higher than the average levels measured in Europe. This study confirms that same high exposure in American children.
“U.S. chemical law leaves children unprotected from toxic chemicals that other industrialized countries long ago banned,” said Sonya Lunder, MPH, senior analyst at EWG and co-author of the study. “It's time for real, comprehensive reform that puts the health of children first,” Lunder added.
The average levels of PBDEs in the blood of children tested by EWG were about 62 parts per billion, compared to 25 ppb in their mothers. In the limited number of studies of this age group in other countries, Spanish and Norwegian children had levels 6 to 13 times lower. Australian children have roughly equal levels.
Toxic fire retardants in everyday items like furniture, sofas, televisions and computers could expose children to concentrations exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended safe level. Children ingest more fire retardants and other toxins when they put their hands, toys and other objects 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 single dose administered to mice on a day when the brain is growing rapidly can cause permanent changes to behavior, including hyperactivity.
“It’s well documented that U.S. adults are more exposed to chemical fire retardants than adults in other countries, but these findings show that young children are at even higher risk,” said Anila Jacob, MD, EWG senior scientist and study co-author. “Parents want to protect their children, but once they are old enough to crawl or walk, they are more vulnerable to exposure to these and other toxic chemicals.”
“These chemicals are everywhere - in food, in our homes and schools,” said Laurie Yung of Missoula, Mont., who was tested along with her 3-year-old son, Conner. “We need laws to protect us from exposure not only to these chemicals, but that will make sure chemicals are safe for kids before they’re allowed on the market.”
"I am extremely disturbed to see children have higher exposures than their mothers, especially at a time that they are more vulnerable to the toxic effects," said Dr. Åke Bergman.
Other moms and kids in the study were from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C.
Even as the chemical industry insists Deca is safe, the European Union has banned it from use, 10 U.S. states are considering or have enacted legislative bans, and major electronics manufacturers including Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and Samsung no longer use Deca and are phasing-out other bromine-based fire retardants.
NOTE: Moms and kids who participated in the study were from California, Connecticut, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C. Mothers are available for comment, as are leading U.S. and international scientists.
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.