Fire Retardants Found in Children's Blood
Toddlers Have 3 Times the Blood Levels of Fire Retardants as Moms, Study Shows; Industry Says Levels Safe
Sept. 4, 2008 -- Young children have three times the blood levels of
fire-retardant chemicals as their mothers, according to a new study by the
Environmental Working Group. The chemicals are routinely used in common
household items such as furniture, mattresses, and electronics.
The gap between mothers and their children was a surprise finding. Because
of typically similar diet and exposures in the same
household, "we would have expected similar levels," says Anila Jacob,
MD, MPH, a senior scientist at EWG. "What we found was, kids on average had
three times the levels of toxic retardants polluting their blood compared to
The chemicals are hormone-disrupting and potentially hazardous, especially
to young brain development, Jacob and her colleagues say. But a spokesman for
the flame retardant industry countered that the levels of chemicals, known as
PBDEs or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, found in the study are quite low, in
the parts per billion range.
The EWG scientists tested the blood of 20 U.S. children ages 1 to 4 and
their mothers, and evaluated the samples for PBDEs. In 19 of 20 pairs, Jacob
tells WebMD, the children had a higher concentration than the mothers.
Two types of PBDEs, Penta and Octa, are no longer made in the U.S., Jacob
says, but are still present in older items in households. The researchers found
that another PBDE, known as Deca, showed up in 65% of the children tested and
45% of the adults.
They found total PBDE concentration in the children's blood averaged 62
parts per billion and ranged from 24 to 114 ppb. The concentration in the
mothers' blood averaged 25 ppb and ranged from 10 to 74 ppb.
There is no established standard for safe blood levels, according to Jacob
and Sonya Lunder, MPH, a senior analyst at EWG and a co-author of the report.
"These findings raise concern about the effect of PBDEs on children's brain
development," Lunder says. "These levels are uncomfortably close to
doses found harmful in laboratory animals.''
Although there are no human studies, Jacob and Lunder point to studies
conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and others finding that
PBDEs can be especially toxic to the developing brains of animals, with even a
single dose of PBDEs causing ill effects.
In laboratory tests on mice, researchers have found that a dose of PBDEs
given on a single day when the brain is growing rapidly can cause hyperactivity
and other changes to behavior, the EWG researchers note.
In another study, done in lab rats, Deca was linked to cancers, according to
a report from the National Toxicology Program.
The new report, the authors say, is the first to show that U.S. children
have much higher levels of PBDEs in their blood than their parents. It comes on
the heels of a study from Australia, published in late August in the journal
Environmental Science and Technology, in which researchers tested the
blood of more than 8,000 residents and also found that the children had higher
levels of PBDEs than the parents.