If you have a couch, easy chair, foam pillow (including those used for breastfeeding), mattress, mattress pad, futon, car seat, carpet padding or any other product made with PBDEs before 2005 in your house, you could be exposing your child to chemicals that may possibly lower his or her intelligence and / or lead to hyperactivity.
PBDEs are polybrominated diphenyl ethers used for decades as fire retardants in common products such as carpeting, baby strollers and electronics.
In a recent study, PBDEs have been associated with hyperactivity and lower intelligence in children. PBDEs were mostly withdrawn from the U.S. market in 2004, but remain present in many consumer products bought before then.
"In animal studies, PBDEs can disrupt thyroid hormone and cause hyperactivity and learning problems. Our study adds to several other human studies to highlight the need to reduce exposure to PBDEs in pregnant women," study author Dr. Aimin Chen, an assistant professor in the department of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, said in an American Academy of Pediatrics news release.
For their study, researchers examined the PBDE levels in blood samples from 309 pregnant women and followed up with intelligence and behavior tests on the women’s children each year until they were 5 years old.
Researchers found that PBDE exposure in the womb was associated with hyperactivity at ages 2 to 5, and with lower intelligence at age 5. A tenfold increase in PBDE exposure during pregnancy was related to about a four-point IQ deficit in 5-year-old children.
The results of the research did not prove a cause and effect relationship with hyperactivity and lower intelligence scores in the children, but did show a possible association.
Many households contain items that were purchased before the PBDE ban in 2004. Oftentimes these products are handed down from one family member to another (especially children’s products), or can be picked up at a garage sale.
"Because PBDEs exist in the home and office environment as they are contained in old furniture, carpet pads, foams and electronics, the study raises further concern about their toxicity in developing children," Chen concluded.
In a study published in 2008 by the Environmental Working Group, young children were found to have 3 times the blood levels of fire-retardant chemicals as their mothers.
What can you do to reduce your family’s exposure to PBDEs?
1. Inspect foam items. Replace anything with a ripped cover or foam that is misshapen and breaking down. If you cannot replace these items try to keep the covers intact. Beware of older items like car seats and mattress pads where the foam is not completely encased in a protective fabric.
2. Use a vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter. These vacuums are more efficient at trapping small particles and will likely remove more contaminants and other allergens from your home. HEPA-filter air cleaners may also reduce particle-bound contaminants in your house.
3. Do not reupholster foam furniture. Even those items without PBDEs might contain poorly studied fire retardants with potentially harmful effects.
4. Be careful when removing old carpet. The padding may contain PBDEs. Keep your work area isolated from the rest of your home. Clean up with a HEPA-filter vacuum and mop to pick up as many of the small particles as possible.
5. When purchasing new products ask the manufacturers what type of fire retardants they use. Avoid products with brominated fire retardants, and opt for less flammable fabrics and materials, like leather, wool and cotton. Be aware that "natural" or latex foam and natural cotton are flammable and require a fire retardant method that may contain toxic fire retardants.
The study is to be presented Monday at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
Until it is peer-reviewed in a medical journal it should be considered a preliminary finding.
As a nation of consumers we are exposed to chemicals, many of which we’ve never heard of, in products we use daily. Most of us are not scientists, just people trying to find the right products that are safe for our families. More information on product safety can be found at www.ewg.org and www.epa.gov.