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Health & Pregnancy

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Can Fire Retardants Raise Risk of Children Born With Lower IQs?

Study found higher levels of the chemicals in mom also upped chances of hyperactivity in kids by age 5


The level of fire-retardant chemicals in the women's bodies didn't appear to affect the way the kids developed physically and mentally from ages 1 to 3. But at the age of 5, children of mothers with the highest level of chemicals in their bodies were more likely to have lower IQs (by 5 points) and to be more hyperactive than other kids.

Does this matter? In the big picture, "a 5-point reduction in the average IQ of U.S. children would result in a 57 percent increase in children who have an IQ lower than 70 points," said study co-author Dr. Bruce Lanphear, a health sciences professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Those children, he noted, would be considered mentally disabled.

"There would also be a corresponding decrease in the number of children who would be 'gifted,' " with an IQ above 130 points, Lanphear added.

Dr. Maida Galvez, an associate professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, advises consumers to look for new furniture that includes the label "TB 117-2013," which means it meets new standards set by California regarding fire safety in products.

As for existing furniture and other products, it's possible to send samples to labs for testing to see if they contain fire retardants. A 2012 study found questionable fire retardant chemicals in 85 percent of 102 couches tested.

Alternatively, "there are simple steps every family can take to reduce exposures to flame retardant chemicals in the home," Galvez said. "This includes wet mopping and wet dusting, ventilating the home and frequent hand washing with basic soap and water. These simple steps can reduce exposure to dust that may contain flame-retardant chemicals."

Future research should focus on the effects of flame-retardant exposure on adults and children, said study lead author Dr. Aimin Chen, an assistant professor in the department of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

The study appears in the May 28 issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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