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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

Fire Retardant Study: Industry Response

"The levels of PBDEs found are quite low," says John Kyte, a spokesman for The Bromine Science and Environmental Forum, an industry group based in Washington, D.C. "Even the highest numbers of PBDEs found are relatively low, in the parts per billion range."

Levels of Deca, the only PBDE still in use in the U.S. for new products, was especially low, he says. Deca "has been found to be safe for continued use," Kyle says.

"Flame retardants save actual human lives," with no evidence of illness or harm reported, Kyte says.

Fire Retardants: EPA Weighs In

The study results -- and the fact that a level of 114 parts per billion was the highest reported in children -- are "of concern," says Linda Birnbaum, PhD, a senior toxicologist with the EPA, who reviewed the study for WebMD. "What I see is another piece of evidence that supports the fact that levels of these chemicals in children appear to be higher than the levels in their parents," she says. "I think this study raises a red flag."

The EPA has set a "reference dose" for Deca, she says, which states that a daily oral dose of 7 micrograms per kilogram of body weight is believed to be without appreciable effects. But translating that to "safe" blood levels is not easy, she says, because the oral dose is different than what is stored in the body.

The EPA is studying the issue and working to better understand potential health hazards of Deca. The agency will soon start talking to U.S. makers of Deca, for instance, about the EPA's Voluntary Children's Chemical Evaluation Program, which the agency says will ensure that necessary testing of products is conducted to gain more knowledge about exposure for children and adults.

Fire Retardant Study: Another Opinion

The study suggests that exposure to the PBDEs is not good, especially during early development, says Irva Hertz-Picciotto, PhD, MPH, professor of health sciences and deputy director of the Center for Children's Environmental Health at the University of California, Davis.

The study, she tells WebMD, "does seem to establish that children are absorbing more than their mothers, even though they live in the same household environment, which has strong implications for their health and development."

There aren't studies in humans of the effects of PBDEs, says Hertz-Picciotto, who has studied PCB exposures in children.  "Nevertheless, because these compounds appear to have similar properties to other, better studied ones, and because possible interactions among multiple chemical exposures could be especially detrimental, reducing exposures in your home could help protect our children."

Fire Retardants: What Can Parents Do?

Parents concerned about PBDE exposure can take a number of steps, Jacob says.

"Keep the house as dust free as possible," she says. It's believed the chemicals gather in house dust. Children's blood levels may be higher than their parents' level because they tend to play on the floor, she says.

"Use a HEPA filter when you vacuum," she suggests. Have children wash their hands carefully before eating, she says.

Be aware of which products may contain PBDEs, such as TVs, stereos, upholstered furniture, and mattresses and, to a lesser extent, alarm clocks, phones, and device chargers, the authors say.

When shopping for new products that may include PBDE, you can search out manufacturers who are shifting away from Deca, already restricted in Europe, Jacob says. Among manufacturers that have publicly committed to phasing out all brominated fire retardants include Acer, Apple, Eizo Nanao, LG Electronics, Lenovo, Matsushita, Microsoft, Nokia, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony-Ericsson, and Toshiba.

Two states, Maine and Washington, have placed restrictions on Deca use and 10 other states have proposed such bans.

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