Fire retardant chemical found in children

WASHINGTON Thu Sep 4, 2008 2:08am EDT

Boys cool down in a public fountain in a file photo. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Boys cool down in a public fountain in a file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A fire retardant chemical used in electronics, toys and furniture has been detected in children's blood at triple the levels found in their mothers, the Environmental Working Group reported on Thursday.

In a small pilot study of 20 families, the non-profit environmental group tested blood samples from mothers and their young children -- ages 18 months to four years -- for the presence of PBDEs, a hormone-disrupting chemical.

In 19 of the 20 families, concentrations of PBDEs were typically three times as high in children as in their mothers, said Sonya Lunder, the study's author. One child had six times the level of the chemical that was detected in her mother.

"To us, this raises concerns that kids live very differently in the same environment than their parents do and those kid-like behaviors put them at risk for contaminant exposure," Lunder said in a telephone interview.

Lunder said young children are exposed to more of these substances because they play by putting their hands and other household items in their mouths after touching furniture or appliances that contain PBDEs. They also eat more and drink more, proportionally, than their mothers do, and food and drink can contain these chemicals, she said.

PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are hormone-disrupting pollutants that build up in the blood and tissues. Two forms of PBDEs are no longer made in the United States but are still present in items in U.S. homes, the study said.

The largest volume of PBDEs are in electronics in a form called Deca, which is banned in European electronics and in some U.S. states, according to the study.

The study cited peer-reviewed tests that showed a single dose of PBDEs given to mice on a single day when their brains were growing rapidly can cause permanent behavior changes, including hyperactivity.

Lunder said there have been numerous studies of the toxic effects of fire retardants on adults, but few on how these substances affect children.

A spokesman for the Bromine Science and Environment Forum, a trade group, took issue with the environment group's study, saying that even the highest levels of PBDEs detected were relatively low, and that Deca was barely found in the children.

"Flame retardants save actual human lives, and no illness, ailment or harm to any human anywhere has ever been reported as a result of exposure to Deca, even among those who work producing the material," the spokesman, John Kyte, said in an e-mail.

Kyte said the flame retardant manufacturers group supported monitoring and analysis of "potential concerns" raised by the environmental group's study.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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