Common Chemicals a Problem for Kids

Flame retardant chemicals linked to poorer neurodevelopment and behavior in children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Sometimes trying to address one problem can cause another. This may be the case with flame retardant chemicals. They are supposed to help prevent fires, but they may cause health issues.

A recent study found that exposure to flame retardant chemicals is linked to mental problems in children. These problems include poor attention, lower IQ and reduced fine motor coordination.

There are several ways to reduce your children's exposure to these chemicals. You can seal furniture tears, regularly mop, vacuum often and wash your hands frequently.

"Reduce chemical exposure at home."

The study, led by Brenda Eskenazi, PhD, of the Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health in the School of Public Health at the University of California at Berkeley, involved looking at a group of chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

The researchers wanted to look at the neurodevelopment of children in California who had been exposed to PBDEs while their mothers or pregnant or after birth.

PBDEs are chemicals that can cause changes in a person's endocrine system, which controls the body's hormones. These chemicals are found in foam furniture, carpet, upholstery and electronics, among other products.

Dr. Eskenazi and her colleagues took blood samples from 279 pregnant women and then from 272 of their children at age 7. The children were also given a series of tests at age 5 and 7. The tests measured their attention, their fine motor coordination and their intelligence. The researchers also gathered data from questionnaires that were given to the children's teachers and mothers about the children's behavior and attention.

Their intelligence, measured as IQ, was determined based on their working memory, how quickly they processed information, their verbal comprehension skills and their reasoning skills.

The results showed that higher levels of PBDEs in the mothers while they were pregnant was linked to lower attention levels in their children at ages 5 and 7.

Children who had higher exposure to the PBDEs also had poorer fine motor coordination, especially in their hand that was not dominant (ie, the left hand in right-handed children).

The researchers found lower scores on the IQ tests among the children at age 7 who had higher concentrations of PBDE. The testing scores generally matched the reports of the teachers and mothers in identifying children with attention difficulties or other cognitive tasks.

However, the researchers did not adjust their findings to account for the children's birth weight, the number of weeks of pregnancy when they were born or their mother's thyroid hormone levels.

Overall, however, the researchers concluded that this study shows evidence that PBDEs can have negative effects on a child's neurodevelopment and behavior.

This is not the first time that environmental exposure to PBDEs have been linked to neurodevelopment and other problems. However, it is one of the largest studies.

Two different types of PBDEs have already been banned in a number of US states. These are pentaBDE and octaBDE, though they are still in products made before 2004.

The study was published November 15 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The research was funded by grants from the US Environmental Protection Agency and from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Funding also came from the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 12, 2012
Last Updated:
November 16, 2012