“A new study confirms that exposure in the womb to fire-beating chemicals in furniture and carpet pads may hinder child development,” writes Dina Fine Maron for Scientific American.
Almost a decade after manufacturers stopped using certain chemical flame retardants in furniture foam and carpet padding, many of the compounds still lurk in homes. New work to be presented today reaffirms that the chemicals may also still be hurting young children who were exposed before they were born.
Researchers investigating the health impacts of prenatal exposure to flame retardants collected blood samples from 309 pregnant women early in their second trimester. Spikes in the levels of one class of flame retardant, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) correlated with behavior and cognition difficulties during early childhood.
The researchers tracked children through the first five years of their lives, looking at a battery of tests for IQ and behavior. They found that children of mothers who had high PBDE levels during their second trimester showed cognition deficits when the children were five years old as well as higher rates of hyperactivity at ages two to five. If the mother’s blood had a 10-fold increase in PBDEs, the average five-year-old had about a four-point IQ deficit. “A four-point IQ difference in an individual child may not be perceivable in…ordinary life. However, in a population, if many children are affected, the social and economic impact can be huge due to the shift of IQ distribution and productivity,” says lead author Aimin Chen, an assistant professor of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. The findings, based on women and children from Cincinnati, will be presented May 6 at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Washington, D.C. The unpublished results have been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, but the paper has not yet been accepted.
I also read that the, “U.S. fails to follow suit as global community agrees to eliminate flame retardant chemical,” in another report published yesterday by the Center for International Environmental Law.
From this report:
More than 160 countries attending the 6th Conference of Parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) have agreed to phase out hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD or HBCDD)—a highly toxic brominated flame retardant.
HBCD is widely used in building insulation, upholstery and electronics around the world. The chemical has severe adverse effects on the development of children, linked to its ability to interfere with the normal functioning of hormone systems. After decades of use, HBCD is now ubiquitous in the global environment due to its slow rate of degradation, ability to travel in wind and water, and accumulation in living organisms—including traditional food sources.
Unfortunately, the parties’ decision allows for the continued use of HBCD in building insulation materials for at least five years. This exemption will lead to continued exposure to this hazardous chemical.
This chemical becomes the 23 substance scheduled for global elimination under the Stockholm Convention, a global treaty with 179 parties at present.
The U.S. is one of very few countries that are not party to the Stockholm Convention. According to Baskut Tuncak, attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law, “The U.S.’s failure to ratify the Stockholm Convention is sadly due to the inability of lawmakers to take the first step—fixing the nation’s own broken domestic law for chemicals.”
Because lawmakers have repeatedly failed to fix the 1976 U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) remains unable to protect people and wildlife from hundreds of hazardous chemicals that remain in widespread use, such as HBCD. While EPA includes HBCD in its list of chemicals of concern, and recently announced new requirements for users of HBCD, the U.S. is unable to ban or phase-out HBCD without changes to TSCA.
The Safe Chemicals Act, recently re-introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) would make necessary changes to TSCA, enabling the U.S. to ratify the Stockholm Convention and re-emerge as a leader in global efforts to improve chemical safety.