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For Your Child

For Your Child

Flame Retardants May Affect Kids' Development

The family's well-worn couch. Grandpa's favorite old chair. Of all the things parents may worry about, these items probably don't make the list. But according to a new study, maybe they should, particularly if they contain flame retardants. Furniture, carpet, electronics, and other products that are made with such chemicals may increase a child's risk for developmental problems. Exposure to them may lead to a lower IQ, inattention, and coordination troubles.

Photo of infant crawling on a carpet

Effects of flame retardants

Flame retardants are also known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). These chemicals were originally used in many household items to resist burning. But research later suggested that PBDEs may be harmful to humans. Many states banned their use.

Despite these bans, PBDEs can still be found in items made before the chemicals were phased out in 2004. They are often inhaled or ingested as dust particles.

"These chemicals stay in the body and in the environment for a long time," says study lead author Brenda Eskenazi, Ph.D., a professor of maternal and child health and epidemiology, and director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health at the University of California, Berkeley.

To study how flame retardants may affect children, researchers requested the help of about 280 pregnant women in California. Most of the women were Mexican-American. They followed the development of these women's children from birth up to age 7. Researchers took blood samples from the study participants. Children also underwent mental assessments and motor skill tests.

California was chosen as the study site because of high PBDE use in the 1970s.

The study found that children with higher levels of PBDEs in their bodies had lower IQs and problems with attention and coordination.

Another important finding to note: The children's mothers did not have high levels of these chemicals in their blood. This fact suggests that the children were exposed to PBDEs after they were born, likely in their homes.

Advice for parents

Parents can do a lot to protect their child from flame-retardant chemicals. And you don't need to necessarily toss that old couch or chair. Dr. Eskenazi recommends repairing any tears on furniture or upholstery. Also keep your home clean. Dust and vacuum regularly.

When shopping for new furniture, choose products that are filled with cotton, wool, or polyester. Avoid items with chemical-treated foam. Opt for products labeled flame-retardant free.

This study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry - ToxFAQs for Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs)

CDC - Factsheet: Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) and Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBBs)

Environmental Protection Agency - Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) Action Plan Summary

January 2013

3 Home Safety Threats You Might Overlook

You're a careful parent who steers children away from things that could harm them. But hidden threats lurk in every house-sometimes where you least expect them. For safety's sake, look through your home often. Keep an eye out for not-so-obvious hazards. Here are three of them:

Scalding tap water

It's common for a home's water heater to be set above 120 degrees, and this can cause a scald burn to a child in seconds. Set your hot water heater to 120 degrees. Check a child's bath water with a thermometer; aim for 100 degrees.

Unstable furniture

Each year, thousands of young kids are badly injured-and some die-when large TVs and heavy furniture tip over on them. Often, the victims were leaning on the furniture, climbing it, or pulling themselves up on it. Double-check the stability of large furniture. Anchor stoves, bookcases, shelves, or bureaus to the wall. Get rid of items that may tempt kids to climb.

Window blinds

Hundreds of children have strangled to death after getting tangled up in cords or chains on window blinds. Window coverings sold before 2001 pose the most danger. Secure the cords of older window coverings so children can't reach them or replace them with safer, cordless blinds. Move cribs, beds, and other furniture away from windows. Use only cordless window coverings in children's sleep and play areas.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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