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Flame Retardants: Banned, but not gone

Thursday, August 18, 2011

By Sonya Lunder, EWG Senior Scientist

Even though toxic flame retardant chemicals were banned in 2006, pregnant women in California carry high levels of the hazardous substances in their blood, according to a new study by scientists at the University of California-San Francisco's Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment.

The research team tested the blood of 25 central and northern California women in their second trimester of pregnancy for polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. The results found PBDE at several times higher levels than previous prenatal studies conducted in the U.S. and in other countries, including China, India, Japan, Korea, Sweden and Spain.

The PBDE levels found in these women were similar to concentrations measured in EWG's 2003 study of breast milk from 20 U.S. mothers. Even though PBDEs can no longer be made in the U.S., these chemicals clearly still litter our environment. They were used for years as fire retardants in foam furniture and the plastic casings of TVs and computer monitors. They accumulate in people and wildlife and disrupt brain development and hormone systems.

In the U.C.-San Francisco study, women with the highest PBDE levels were found to have altered thyroid hormone functions. Since these hormones affect fetal brain development, the findings suggest that PBDEs could have a serious impact on the child throughout his life.

A recent study of pregnant women in New York City similarly found that babies exposed to more PBDEs in utero had lower IQ scores in childhood. To get the full picture of the study, its results, and why California women are at heightened risk, read this interview with Ami Zota, the study's lead author, published in the Los Angeles Times on August 10.

[Thanks to flickr & wwarby for the flames]