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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

Tracking Exposure to PBDEs continued...

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.

“This research has important policy implications, as it illustrates how halogenated flame retardant use in the U.S. is responsible for the higher concentrations of PBDEs measured in Mexican-American children in California compared to their Mexican counterparts,” says Julie B. Herbstman, PhD, ScD, an assistant professor of environmental health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, in New York City. Herbstman is studying the health effects of PBDEs, but she was not involved in the current research.

“Given the potential health implications associated with this exposure, this study underscores the need for us to carefully consider the effectiveness as well as the unintended health consequences that may result from policy intended to reduce fire-related mortality,” she says.

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