Skip to content

    Children's Health

    Font Size

    High Levels of Flame Retardants in U.S. Kids

    Researchers Say Children May Be Exposed to Chemicals Through Dust and Food
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

    April 15, 2011 -- Children in California have high levels of flame-retardant chemicals in their bodies, and they appear to be exposed to these chemicals through household dust and food, a new study shows.

    The study found that Mexican-American children, whose mothers emigrated from Mexico before they were born, had blood levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) that were seven times higher than children of the same age who were born and grew up in Mexico.

    “The only levels that we’ve seen in the literature that are higher than the California children blood levels are children living on a hazardous waste site in Nicaragua,” says study researcher Brenda Eskenazi, PhD. Eskenazi is director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health at the University of California, Berkeley.

    By comparing children of the same ethnicity who came from roughly the same socioeconomic classes, and whose mothers all came from the same states in Mexico, researchers were able to better pinpoint where the exposure was happening.

    And Eskenazi says that because California children’s PBDE levels were higher than those of their mothers, the chemicals don’t appear to be coming from the mothers’ breast milk, as previous studies have shown.

    More likely sources of exposure for American children, she thinks, are household dust and food.

    Independent experts agree.

    “The chemical essentially just evaporates and comes out of your household furniture and your household plastics and so it’s actually dust exposure to children that’s causing these high levels,” says David Andrews, PhD, a chemist and senior scientist with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C.

    Health Effects of PBDEs

    PBDEs are chemicals that are used to keep things from burning.

    In the mid-1970s, California created one of the highest standards for furniture flammability in the country. As a result, millions of pounds of flame retardant chemicals have been used in furniture foam, clothing, upholstery, electronics, and in the insulation for electrical wires.

    Even though standards in other states aren’t as strict, product manufactures often conform to California’s flammability standards so their products can be sold there.

    1 | 2 | 3

    Today on WebMD

    child with red rash on cheeks
    What’s that rash?
    plate of fruit and veggies
    How healthy is your child’s diet?
    smiling baby
    Treating diarrhea, fever and more.
    Middle school band practice
    Understanding your child’s changing body.

    worried kid
    jennifer aniston
    Measles virus
    sick child

    Child with adhd
    rl with friends
    Child Coughing or Sneezing into Elbow