More evidence about the probable harms of PBDE-based flame retardants

Consumer Reports News: January 27, 2010 04:01 PM

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are flame-retarding chemicals used in many everyday products, such as mattresses, furniture, computers, televisions, and other electronics. PBDEs are not chemically bound to these products, which means they can be released into the environment. And released they often are, as PBDEs can be found in our air, water, food, household dust—and bodies. Blood samples show that nearly all Americans harbor varying amounts of these chemicals, and children appear to absorb higher levels than adults. (For related information, see Green dreams: “Natural” claims are no guarantee of a greener mattress.)

In a recent study, researchers tested blood samples from the umbilical cords of 210 newborns. They then followed up with these children at ages 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. The children with the highest levels of PBDEs in their cord blood scored lower on tests of mental and physical development at all five ages studied. The link was particularly strong at age 4, when verbal and full IQ scores were 5.5 to 8 points lower for those who had the highest PBDE exposure. Overall, the reductions in IQ scores were similar to those associated with low-level lead exposure, say the researchers.

The good news is that some governments and manufacturers are taking note. Three large chemical companies recently agreed to phase out a common form of PBDEs called decabromodiphenyl ether (deca, for short). And deca has already been banned in some states. Several electronics manufacturers have also committed to phasing out PBDE flame retardants in their products.

To learn more, and find out ways to reduce your family's exposure to PBDEs, see the full post on our Health blog.

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