A new study correlates the exposure to flame retardants during pregnancy to lower IQ in five year old children. The research conducted by Simon Fraser University, and published online today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives also found that children tend to become hyperactive due to this prenatal exposure.
Flame retardants, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, (PBDEs) exposure was studied in 309 U.S. women at 16 weeks of pregnancy and later in children till the age of five.
The researchers found that a 10-fold increase in PBDE concentrations in early pregnancy, when the fetal brain is developing, was associated with a 4.5 IQ decrease. This was the direct impact of the environmental lead exposure.
Professor Bruce Lanphear and others part of the research said that this confirms earlier studies that also said that PBDEs act as developmental neurotoxicants in pregnant women and children.
The use of PBDEs in regular day-to-day life is very common and has been used since the past 30 years in furniture, carpet padding, car seats and other consumer products. While a decade ago most of the chemical was removed voluntarily, some are still in use and others persist in the environment and human bodies.
The scientists remarked that nearly all homes still have PBDEs.
“The results from this and other observational human studies support efforts to reduce Penta-BDE exposures, especially for pregnant women and young children,” says Lanphear. “Unfortunately, brominated flame retardants are persistent and North Americans are likely exposed to higher PBDE levels than people from other parts of the world. Because of this it is likely to take decades for the PBDE levels in our population to be reduced to current European or Asian levels.”
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) added two of three existing commercial PBDE formulas to the list of banned Persistent Organic Pollutants (PIPs) due to concerns over toxicity in wildlife and mammals in 2009. In 2004, the chemicals were voluntarily withdrawn from the US market but the products that were manufactured before that still exist and the contamination may still be present in the environment and indoors.
The researchers say that the current study highlights the importance to avoid exposure to flame retardants due to dust or products that are eaten like fish, meat etc.
Professor Lanphear added that additional research was done to understand how exactly the retardants affect the development of the baby’s brain. He also said that the chemicals that have replaced PBDEs need to be checked as well.