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Study Links Flame Retardants to Developmental Delays in Children

Nov 15, 2012

According to study authors, flame retardant chemicals can leach out from upholstered furniture, particularly if the foam is exposed through rips.
Credit Courtesy UC Berkeley Media Relations

A new UC Berkeley study adds to research that suggests flame retardants common in California homes are linked to neurodevelopmental delays in kids.

The study followed nearly 300 women from pregnancy to when their children were 7 years old. Researchers tested mother's levels and then the children's levels for the flame retardant compound polybrominated diphenyl ethers, known as PBDE. They wanted to assess in utero effect as well as childhood exposure, says lead researcher and UC Berkeley epidemiologist Brenda Eskenazi.

"The children's levels are actually seven times higher than in a comparable group of children living in Mexico," says Eskenazi.

Eskenazi says those levels are typical of California kids. A state laws from the 70s required that consumer furnishings meet flame resistance standards. But as studies have identified health risks associated with flame retardants, many have been banned. Some PBDEs were banned in 2004, but are still commonly found in homes.

"And so what we found is that there was a relationship of maternal, and or child's PBDE levels, and poor performance on fine-motor coordination -- but not gross motor coordination -- and IQ and attention," says Eskenazi. 

Eskenazi says the work supports earlier findings from animal studies, and to date it's the largest and most comprehensive study examining links from these chemicals to brain and behavioral problems.

She says it’s too soon to say what these findings mean for the children's long-term health.