Tests Find Toxic Fire Retardants in Mothers – and Even More in Toddlers

August 4, 2014

NO ESCAPE: : How fire retardants get into us

How fire retardants get into us


People end up with fire retardants in their bodies mainly by inhaling or swallowing dust. Scientists believe that small children may have higher exposures to fire retardants because they spend more time on the floor, where dust contaminated with these chemicals accumulates. A 2012 study by Duke researchers found that the levels of PBDE flame retardants on toddlers’ hands predicted levels in their blood, supporting the role of hand-to-mouth contact as an exposure pathway (Stapleton 2012a). Children put their hands in their mouths more often than adults. Hand-washing may help reduce their exposure to contaminated dust. A study published earlier this year by the same Duke researchers reported that on average, children who washed their hands at least five times a day had levels of fire retardants on their hands 30 to 50 percent lower than children who washed their hands less frequently (Stapleton 2014).

The EWG-Duke study showed that children who washed their hands frequently had lower urinary levels of BDCIPP. Increased hand-to-mouth activity was significantly associated with higher DPhP levels. Thumb sucking was associated with higher DPhP levels but to a lesser degree. The findings indicate that hand-to-mouth behavior is an important predictor of fire retardant exposure in children.

In the study group, mothers whose levels of DPhP, BDCIPP, and ip-DPhP were higher than others also had children with higher levels of these metabolites. Mothers with comparatively lower levels generally had children with lower levels. This finding suggests that mothers and their children have similar exposure pathways because of their shared environments.


Where to find fire retardants in the home

A 2012 analysis of 102 samples of polyurethane foam from couch cushions detected at least one fire retardant in 85 percent of them (Stapleton 2012b). PentaBDE was the most common fire retardant found in couches purchased before 2005, when it was phased out. Among couches bought after 2005, 52 percent contained TDCIPP and 18 percent contained components of Firemaster® 550. This study showed that the use of fire retardants in furniture was increasing: 93 percent of couches purchased after 2005 contained significant levels of fire retardant chemicals compared to 76 percent of couches purchased prior to 2005.

An analysis of baby products showed a similar pattern of flame retardant use (Stapleton 2011). Eighty percent of samples collected from 101 baby products, including car seats, baby carriers and portable mattresses, contained fire retardants. TDCIPP was detected in 36 percent of the samples and Firemaster ® 550 components in 17 percent.

Many fire retardants are “additive.” This means they are mixed with other product materials instead of bonded with a chemical reaction. As a result, they migrate out of products more easily. Because a variety of compounds are used as fire retardants, typically a mixture of these chemicals is present in dust. A study of house dust collected in California homes in 2006 and in 2011 found 41 different fire retardant chemicals in at least half of the samples (Dodson 2012). The same study reported significantly higher levels of Firemaster ® 550 compounds in 2011 compared to 2006, indicating increasing use. The levels of TDCIPP in some house dust exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health risk guidelines.