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High Levels of Flame Retardants in U.S. Kids

Researchers Say Children May Be Exposed to Chemicals Through Dust and Food

Health Effects of PBDEs continued...

“Even though the ones that we have the highest concerns about are no longer being produced, they can still break down into these other forms,” says Andrews.

And PBDEs appear to take a long time to break down, which means that they may persist in the environment for years.

“This study focuses on the PBDEs that were phased out of U.S. commercial production and use over five years ago," Jackson Morrill, director in the Chemical Product & Technology Division at the American Chemistry Council, said in a written statement. "New flame retardants entering the market undergo a rigorous review by industry and have to meet high standards set by EPA. We agree with the study authors that the fire safety benefits of flame retardants should be considered in evaluating their use in the marketplace. 

“We do not want the public to lose sight of the benefits of flame retardants," Morrill said. "Flame retardants are used in products, such as plastics, foam or wood, to reduce the likelihood of fire starting or to delay the spread of fires once they start."

Tracking Exposure to PBDEs

Between 1999 and 2000, Eskenazi and her team enrolled pregnant women from a population of low-income, Spanish-speaking farmworkers in Salinas Valley, Calif.

In 2006, the researchers recruited similar low-income women and children in Mexico from the three states that had been home to most of the mothers in the California group.

There were 264 children from California, and 283 children from Mexico, included in the study.

The children all had access to health care and were receiving government food aid.

Almost all the children in both locations were breastfed, though the mothers in California breastfed their infants for a slightly shorter period of time, about nine months compared to 11 months for the mothers in Mexico.

Researchers found that the California children had a greater variety of PBDEs in their blood, as well as higher blood levels, than the children in Mexico.

The average serum concentration of all of the different kinds of flame retardants tested for in the study was 87.8 nanograms per gram of fat in the children in California, compared to 12.3 nanograms per gram of body fat for the children in Mexico.

Researchers also tested the children for levels of another chemical, the pesticide DDT. Though DDT was banned in the U.S. in the 1970s, it continued to be used in Mexico until 2000.

In contrast to the results of the PBDE testing, children in Mexico had markedly higher levels of DDT compared to Mexican-American children. This suggests, again, that environmental exposures to these two chemicals had more to do with where the kids were living than with maternal exposures through breastfeeding and pregnancy.

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