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
By Randy Dotinga
WEDNESDAY, May 28, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A new study bolsters the concerns of some scientists that hazardous levels of fire retardants in furniture and other products may harm children before they are born.
A team of researchers from the University of Cincinnati, Canada and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the chemicals in the retardants may penetrate the bodies of pregnant women. This may boost the risk that their children will be hyperactive and have lower IQs.
The findings don't definitively prove that fire retardants cause these problems; it's possible that other factors could be responsible for lower IQ levels and higher rates of hyperactivity. And even if there is an effect, it is small on an individual basis.
Still, the study suggests that fire retardant chemicals might disrupt the normal ways in which children develop.
"The paper is upsetting," said Steven Gilbert, director and founder of the Institute of Neurotoxicology & Neurological Disorders, who was not involved with the research. "I am really tired of our kids being needlessly exposed to harmful chemicals while we do little to correct the root causes."
At issue are chemicals known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which are used as fire retardants in furniture, drapes, car seats, TVs and other products. The chemicals, which slow the progress of fire, make their way into people's bodies and even into wildlife through dust and soil.
According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which tracks the chemicals in the ocean, this kind of fire retardant mostly vanished from the U.S. market about a decade ago amid concerns that they were toxic. The chemicals can still be found in new TVs and in older couches and other furniture.
In the new study, researchers tested 309 pregnant women in Cincinnati from 2003-06 for levels of the chemicals in their bodies. Then they tracked the women's children to see how they fared on various tests and adjusted their statistics so they wouldn't be thrown off by large or small numbers of women who fit into various types of categories such as rich or poor.
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.