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Food & Health : Agri. & Environ. Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

Toxic chemicals found 3 times higher in young children than their mothers
By Ben Wasserman
Sep 6, 2008 - 11:06:35 AM

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Saturday September 5, 2008 ( -- A study of chemical fire retardants in parents and their children showed toddlers and pre-schoolers had 3 times more the neurotoxic pollutants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in their blood than their mothers'.

The study conducted by the Environmental Working Group suggests that U.S. children age 1 to 4 bear the heaviest burden of flame retardant pollution in the industrialized countries.

The study also showed the fire retardant Deca, which has already banned in Europe but still unregulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was found more often and at higher levels in U.S. children than their mothers.

Early in 2003, the nonprofit environmental health advocating organization published its test results showing breast milk from 20 American mothers contained fire-retardants at levels that were 75 times higher than that from European mothers.

"U.S. chemical law leaves children unprotected from toxic chemicals that other industrialized countries long ago banned," said Sonya Lunder, MPH, senior analyst at EWG and co-author of the study.

"It's time for real, comprehensive reform that puts the health of children first," Lunder added.

To be specific, the average levels of PBDEs in the blood of children were about 62 parts per billion (ppb), compared to 25 ppb in their mothers. In comparison, early studies showed children in Span and Norway had levels 6 to 13 times lower.

These toxic fire retardants are present in many household items including furniture, sofas, televisions, computers and carpet, all of which could expose children to the pollutants at levels exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recommended safe level.

Carpet could be one of most significant sources of flame retardant pollution, a health observer affiliated with suggested. Early studies showed Florida where carpet is less commonly used has the lowest levels of flame retardants found in houses in the state.

Children who touch or use items with flame retardants or live in a house with flame retardants-treated carpet can ingest the pollutants and other toxins when they put their fingers, toys in their mouths or or eat food picked by unwashed hands.

"It's well documented that U.S. adults are more exposed to chemical fire retardants than adults in other countries, but these findings show that young children are at even higher risk," said Anila Jacob, MD, EWG senior scientist and study co-author.

"Parents want to protect their children, but once they are old enough to crawl or walk, they are more vulnerable to exposure to these and other toxic chemicals."

"These chemicals are everywhere - in food, in our homes and schools," said Laurie Yung of Missoula, Mont., whose 3-year-old son was tested for the pollutants.

"We need laws to protect us from exposure not only to these chemicals, but that will make sure chemicals are safe for kids before they’re allowed on the market."

Early animal tests demonstrated that flame retardants PBDEs can change behavior permanently. Because of the adverse effects, PCBs, which were the old generation of flame retardants were banned in 1970s. PBDEs replace PCBs as fire retardants, but chemists know that these two groups of chemicals share similar chemical structures that may determine similar toxicity.

Children are believed to be more susceptible to the toxicity of the flame retardants because they are not mature yet.

© 2004-2008 by unless otherwise specified

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