There is no doubt that flame retardant chemicals added to furniture, carpeting electronics and vehicles to halt or slow fires do save lives. But these chemicals also can affect the social development of young children, new research has found.
Health scientists from Oregon State University found a “significant relationship” between social behaviors among children and their exposure to widely used flame retardants, says Molly Kile, an environmental epidemiologist and associate professor in the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
Manufacturers began adding flame retardants in 1975, in response to new legislation in California intended to reduce flammability in common household items.
California updated its flammability standards in 2014, and now allows furniture manufacturers to meet the standards without adding flame retardant chemicals to their products, but the chemicals are still widely used and they linger in the indoor environment.
The most common types of flame retardants found in homes and vehicles are brominated diphenyl ethers (BDEs) and organophosphate-based flame retardants (OPFRs).
The organophosphate-based flame retardants have emerged as an alternative to BDEs, which have been phased out in some states over the past five years as links have been discovered to environmental health concerns such as cancers, reproductive problems and lower IQs in children.
Both chemicals are still found in older furniture and foam items. Flame retardant chemicals may be present in plastic, textile and foam consumer products children may be exposed to such as nursing pillows, car seats, crib mattresses, baby carriers, strollers and changing pads.
The flame retardants are added to the products and are not bound in the materials, and this causes them to be released into indoor environments every day.
For this study, the OSU research team recruited 92 Oregon children between ages three to five to wear a silicone wristband for seven days to measure their exposure to flame retardants.
The wristbands, developed by Kim Anderson of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences, have a porous surface that mimics a cell, absorbing chemicals that the wearers are exposed to through their environment.
When the wristbands are returned, Anderson can screen for up to 1,200 chemicals.
The researchers had parents or primary caregivers complete questionnaires giving facts such as age, gender, education level and the home environment, while preschool teachers completed behavior assessments for each participating child.
Results showed that all of the children were exposed to some level of flame retardant.
Children who had higher exposure rates to organophosphate-based flame retardants, or OFPRs, showed less responsible behavior and more aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention and bullying behaviors.
Children with higher exposure to brominated diphenyl ethers, or BDEs, were seen as less assertive by their teachers.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that parents:
* – Wash their hands and their children’s hands often, especially before eating.
* – Dust frequently with a moist cloth.
* – Wet mop or vacuum with a HEPA filter attachment often.
* – Prevent small children from chewing on products that may contain these chemicals.
* – Repair tears in upholstered furniture.
* – Wipe and vacuum the interior of their car often as seats and dashboards contain flame retardant chemicals.