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Children's Health

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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...

As a result, studies have shown that Americans have levels of PBDEs in the bodies that are 20 times higher than levels in Europeans. Government health surveys have found that some of the highest blood levels of PBDEs in California residents.

PBDEs have become so pervasive that a 2010 study documented their presence in butter.

Though their health effects are still being investigated, studies in children have linked high blood levels to problems with brain development, learning, attention, and behavior. In adults, high exposures have been associated with difficulty conceiving, menstrual cycle irregularity, low sperm counts, and altered levels of thyroid hormone.

Production of two kinds of PBDEs ceased in the U.S. in 2004. A third kind, deca-BDE, is being phased out, but it isn’t expected to be off the market until 2014.

“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.

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