Flame retardants may be toxic to children

Contact: Debbie Jacobson djacobson@aap.org 847-434-7084 American Academy of Pediatrics

Lower intelligence, hyperactivity seen in children whose mothers were exposed to the chemicals during pregnancy

WASHINGTON, DC – Chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) have been used for decades to reduce fires in everyday products such as baby strollers, carpeting and electronics. A new study to be presented on Monday, May 6, at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting shows that prenatal exposure to the flame retardants is associated with lower intelligence and hyperactivity in early childhood.

“In animal studies, PBDEs can disrupt thyroid hormone and cause hyperactivity and learning problems,” said lead author Aimin Chen, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health at University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “Our study adds to several other human studies to highlight the need to reduce exposure to PBDEs in pregnant women.”

Dr. Chen and his colleagues collected blood samples from 309 pregnant women enrolled in a study at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to measure PBDE levels. They also performed intelligence and behavior tests on the women’s children annually until they were 5 years old.

“We found maternal exposure to PBDEs, a group of brominated flame retardants mostly withdrawn from the U.S. market in 2004, was associated with deficits in child cognition at age 5 years and hyperactivity at ages 2-5 years,” Dr. Chen said. A 10-fold increase in maternal PBDEs was associated with about a 4 point IQ deficit in 5-year-old children.

Even though PBDEs, except Deca-BDEs, are not used as a flame retardant in the United States anymore, they are found on many consumer products bought several years ago. In addition, the chemicals are not easily biodegradable, so they remain in human tissues and are transferred to the developing fetus.

“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,” Dr. Chen concluded.

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To view the abstract, “Cognitive Deficits and Behavior Problems in Children with Prenatal PBDE Exposure,” go to http://www.abstracts2view.com/pas/view.php?nu=PAS13L1_3550.8.

The Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) are four individual pediatric organizations that co-sponsor the PAS Annual Meeting – the American Pediatric Society, the Society for Pediatric Research, the Academic Pediatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Members of these organizations are pediatricians and other health care providers who are practicing in the research, academic and clinical arenas. The four sponsoring organizations are leaders in the advancement of pediatric research and child advocacy within pediatrics, and all share a common mission of fostering the health and well-being of children worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.pas-meeting.org. Follow news of the PAS meeting on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PedAcadSoc.

Potentially toxic flame retardants found in many US couches

Contact: Tim Lucas tdlucas@duke.edu 919-613-8084 Duke University

DURHAM, N.C. — More than half of all couches tested in a Duke University-led study contained potentially toxic or untested chemical flame retardants that may pose risks to human health.

Among the chemicals detected was “Tris,” a chlorinated flame retardant that is considered a probable human carcinogen based on animal studies.

“Tris was phased out from use in baby pajamas back in 1977 because of its health risks, but it still showed up in 41 percent of the couch foam samples we tested,” said Heather Stapleton, associate professor of environmental chemistry at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

More manufacturers in recent years are treating their couches’ foam padding with chemical flame retardants to adhere to California Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117), she said.  TB 177 requires all residential furniture sold in California to withstand a 12-second exposure to a small open flame without igniting, to help reduce deaths and injuries from accidental home fires. Over the years, the statewide standard essentially has become a de facto national standard, due to the economic importance of the California market.

In many cases, the manufacturer may not know what chemicals have been used.  Most manufacturers buy their foam padding from a vendor who, in turn, buys the chemicals used to treat it from another vendor. The identity of the chemical flame retardants often gets lost along the way, or is protected under law as proprietary.

Stapleton and her colleagues analyzed 102 polyurethane foam samples from couches purchased for home use in the United States between 1985 and 2010.  They published their findings in a peer-reviewed study released Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

In addition to finding Tris, the tests revealed that 17 percent of the foam samples contained the flame-retardant pentaBDE, which is banned in 172 countries and 12 U.S. states and was voluntarily phased out by U.S manufacturers in 2005.

PentaBDEs are long-lasting chemicals that over time migrate into the environment and accumulate in living organisms. Studies show they can disrupt endocrine activity and affect thyroid regulation and brain development. Early exposure to them has been linked to low birth weight, lowered IQ and impaired motor and behavioral development in children.

PentaBDE and Tris were the only flame retardants found in couches purchased before 2005.  After 2005, Tris was the most common flame retardant found. In addition, Stapleton and her colleagues identified two new flame-retardant chemical mixtures in more recently purchases couches for which there is little or no health data available.

“Overall, we detected flame-retardant chemicals in 85 percent of the couches we tested and in 94 percent of those purchased after 2005,” Stapleton said.  “More than half of all samples, regardless of the age of the couch, contained flame retardants that are potentially toxic or have undergone little or no independent testing for human health risks.”

“If a couch has a California TB 117 label, you can all but guarantee it contains chemical flame retardants,” Stapleton said. “But this is where labeling requirements get confusing:  the lack of a TB 117 label on a couch does not guarantee the absence of chemical flame retardants. It’s not that cut-and-dried.”

Stapleton said that so many new proprietary chemical flame retardants have been introduced in recent years that it has become very difficult for scientists to identify them all or determine their presence consumer products.

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Co-authors of the study were Smitri Sharma, Gordon Getzinger and P. Lee Ferguson of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment; Thomas Webster of Boston University School of Public Health; and Michelle Gabriel and Arlene Blum of the Green Science Policy Institute and the University of California-Berkeley.

Funding for the study came from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and a private donation to the Nicholas School from Fred and Alice Stanback.

New study: Many flame retardants in house dust — unsafe levels: study finds chemicals linked to cancer, learning problems, hormone disruption

Contact: Kathryn Rodgers rodgers@silentspring.org 617-332-4288 x225 Silent Spring Institute

Peer-reviewed study finds chemicals linked to cancer, learning problems, hormone disruption

A peer-reviewed study of the largest number of flame retardants ever tested in homes found that most houses had levels of at least one flame retardant that exceeded a federal health guideline. The journal Environmental Science & Technology will publish the study online on November 28, 12:01am Eastern.

The study led by scientists at Silent Spring Institute tested for 49 flame retardant chemicals in household dust, the main route of exposure for people and especially for children. Forty-four flame retardant chemicals were detected and 36 were found in at least 50% of the samples, sometimes at levels of health concern. The flame retardants found in house dust are in furniture, textiles, electronics, and other products and include hormone disruptors, carcinogens, and chemicals with unknown safety profiles.

The highest concentrations were found for chlorinated organophosphate flame retardants. This chemical group includes TCEP and TDCIPP (or chlorinated “Tris”), which are listed as carcinogens under California’s Proposition 65.

TDBPP (or brominated “Tris”) was banned from children’s pajamas in 1977 due to health concerns but is still allowed in other products, and was present in 75% of homes tested in 2011.

There are no federal rules requiring that flame retardants be safety tested. Among the limited number of flame retardants with EPA health risk guidelines, the study found five at levels higher than those guidelines — BDE 47, BDE 99, TCEP, TDCIPP and BB 153.

“Our study found that people are exposed to toxic flame retardants every day. These hazardous chemicals are in the air we breathe, the dust we touch and the couches we sit on. Many flame retardants raise health concerns, including cancer, hormone disruption, and harmful effects on brain development.  It is troubling to see that a majority of homes have at least one flame retardant at levels beyond what the federal government says is safe. Infants and toddlers who spend much time on the floor are at higher risk for exposure,” said Dr. Robin Dodson, a co-author of the study and a scientist with the Silent Spring Institute.

The study was conducted in California homes, because furniture manufacturers use flame retardants in products sold throughout the U.S. in order to meet California’s stricter flammability standard. Many health experts have called on California Governor Jerry Brown to make good on his promise to amend the requirement, which affects the health of people around the country.

This study complements a separate study, also being published in Environmental Science & Technology today (Nov. 28), that found many potentially problematic flame retardants in couches.  Both studies break new ground by revealing the wide range of flame retardants in use. The Silent Spring Institute study demonstrates that flame retardant chemicals in couches and other products wind up in house dust at levels of health concern.

Two PBDE formulations have been phased out due to health concerns, but other flame retardants with considerable evidence of toxicity, such as chlorinated organophosphates and HBCYD, appear to remain at high or increasing levels of use. Every home tested had HBCYD, which was prioritized by regulators in the US and Europe because of its persistence and concerns about human reproductive, neurological, and developmental effects.

Other flame retardants being used as replacements for PBDEs have unknown health implications.  The study found that levels of chemicals in Firemaster® 550 increased from 2006 to 2011, likely because it is being used as a replacement for PentaPBDE, which was phased out.

“When one toxic flame retardant is phased out, it’s being replaced by another chemical we either know is dangerous or suspect may be.  It’s not comforting to swap one hazardous chemical for its evil cousin. Instead, we should test chemicals before they are allowed on the market,” said Dr. Julia Brody, executive director of the Silent Spring Institute and co-author of the study.

Many of the detected chemicals show evidence of hormone disruption; in particular the PBDEs, HBCYD, and TBBPA affect thyroid hormone, which is important for brain development. The breakdown products of TDBPP (brominated “Tris”) damage DNA and cause mammary tumors in animal studies, raising concern about breast cancer in people.

“The potential harm from fire retardant chemicals used in furniture is very concerning. My research found that the California fire standard provides no meaningful protection against the hazard it addresses – furniture ignited by small flames. In view of the toxicity of substances put into furniture foam to meet the California standard, the rule does more harm than good,” according to Dr. Vytenis Babrauskas, an independent fire safety scientist.

Flame retardants linked to neurodevelopmental delays in children : PBDEs

Contact: Sarah Yang
scyang@berkeley.edu
510-643-7741
University of California – Berkeley

Berkeley — Prenatal and childhood exposure to flame retardant compounds are linked to poorer attention, fine motor coordination and IQ in school-aged children, a finding by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, that adds to growing health concerns over a chemical prevalent in U.S. households.

The new study, to be published in the Nov. 15 issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, focuses on PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, a class of persistent, endocrine-disrupting compounds widely found in foam furniture, electronics, carpets, upholstery and other consumer products. The chemicals easily leach out into the environment and are inhaled or ingested through dust, then accumulate in human fat cells.

The researchers collected blood samples taken from 279 women during pregnancy or at delivery, and from 272 of the children when they were 7 years old. Analyses of the blood samples were conducted at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

The children participated in a battery of standardized tests when they were 5 and 7 to assess their attention, fine motor coordination and IQ (verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory, processing speed). Mothers and teachers also completed assessment questionnaires to help evaluate the children’s attention skills and behavior.

“This is the largest and most comprehensive study to date to examine neurobehavioral development in relation to body burden measures of PBDE flame retardants,” said study lead author Brenda Eskenazi, Jennifer and Brian Maxwell Professor of Maternal and Child Health and Epidemiology. “We measured PBDEs both in the mothers during pregnancy and in the children themselves. It shows that there is a relationship of in utero and childhood levels to decrements in fine motor function, attention and IQ.”

The new findings stem from a longitudinal study, the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS), which examines environmental exposures and reproductive health. The study participants are primarily Mexican-Americans living in an agricultural community in Monterey County. Earlier studies found that children from the CHAMACOS group had PBDE blood concentrations seven times higher than children living in Mexico.

Evidence of adverse human health effects from PBDE exposure has been steadily building over the past decade. Other CHAMACOS studies have also revealed links between flame retardant concentrations in mothers’ blood and decreased fertility, lower birthweight babies and changes in thyroid hormone levels, even after controlling for exposure to pesticides and other environmental chemicals. And findings from other smaller studies have linked deficits in physical and mental development in young children to prenatal exposure to PBDEs.

“This new study is very important because it confirms earlier published research on the neurodevelopmental effects of PBDE exposure,” said Heather Stapleton, associate professor of environmental chemistry at Duke University and one of the nation’s leading experts on human exposure to flame retardant chemicals. Stapleton was not part of the UC Berkeley study.

Use of PBDEs increased in the 1970s in response to a California standard (Technical Bulletin 117) requiring that consumer furnishings be able to withstand a small open flame for 12 seconds without igniting.

Today, PBDEs can be found in the blood of up to 97 percent of U.S. residents, with those in California having levels nearly twice the national average, according to studies.

“Within the range of PBDE exposure levels, 5 percent of the U.S. population has very high exposure levels, so the health impact on children in these extremes could be even more significant,” noted Stapleton.

There are three formulations of PBDEs — pentaBDE, octaBDE and decaBDE — that have been developed for commercial use as flame retardants. Penta- and octaBDE have both been banned for use in several U.S. states, including California, but they are still present in products made before 2004. In addition, three major manufacturers have agreed to phase out production of decaBDE by 2013.

“Even though pentaPBDEs are not being used anymore, old couches with foam that is disintegrating will still release PBDEs,” said Eskenazi, director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health (CERCH) at UC Berkeley. “These chemicals will be in our homes for many years to come, so it’s important to take steps to reduce exposure.”

Examples of things that people can do at home include:

  • Seal any tears in couches and upholstered furniture
  • Damp mop and vacuum frequently
  • Wash hands frequently (especially important for children)

 

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CERCH has also posted information about PBDEs online (http://cerch.org/environmental-exposures/pbde-flame-retardants/).

Co-authors of the study are Jonathan Chevrier, Stephen Rauch, Katherine Kogut, Kim Harley, Caroline Johnson, Celina Trujillo and Asa Bradman at CERCH; and Andreas Sjodin at the CDC’s Division of Laboratory Sciences.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences provided major funding for this research.

Study links reduced fertility to flame retardant exposure: PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers

2010 study posted for filing

Contact: Sarah Yang scyang@berkeley.edu 510-643-7741 University of California – Berkeley

Berkeley – Women with higher blood levels of PBDEs, a type of flame retardant commonly found in household consumer products, took longer to become pregnant compared with women who have lower PBDE levels, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

The study, to be published Jan. 26 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that each 10-fold increase in the blood concentration of four PBDE chemicals was linked to a 30 percent decrease in the odds of becoming pregnant each month.

“There have been numerous animal studies that have found a range of health effects from exposure to PBDEs, but very little research has been done in humans. This latest paper is the first to address the impact on human fertility, and the results are surprisingly strong,” said the study’s lead author, Kim Harley, adjunct assistant professor of maternal and child health and associate director of the Center for Children’s Environmental Health Research at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. “These findings need to be replicated, but they have important implications for regulators.”

PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are a class of organobromine compounds that became commonplace after the 1970s when new fire safety standards were implemented in the United States. The flame retardants are used in foam furniture, electronics, fabrics, carpets, plastics and other common items in the home.

Studies have found widespread contamination of house dust by PBDEs, which are known to leach out into the environment and accumulate in human fat cells. Studies also suggest that 97 percent of U.S. residents have detectable levels of PBDEs in their blood, and that the levels in Americans are 20 times higher than in their European counterparts. According to the researchers, residents in California are among those experiencing the highest exposures, most likely due to the state’s relatively stringent flammability laws.

The researchers measured PBDE levels in blood samples from 223 pregnant women enrolled in a longitudinal study at the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS) that examines environmental exposures and reproductive health.

The median concentrations of the four PBDE chemicals in the analysis were slightly lower in this study population than in the general U.S. population, possibly because many of the participants had grown up in Mexico where PBDE exposures are limited, said the authors of the study. The median number of months it took to get pregnant was three, with 15 percent of the participants taking longer than 12 months to conceive.

When the analysis was limited to women who were actively trying to become pregnant, the researchers found that they were half as likely to conceive in any given month if they had high levels of PBDE in their blood. “We aren’t looking at infertility, just subfertility, because all the women in our study eventually became pregnant,” said Harley. “Had we included infertile couples in our study, it is possible that we would have seen an even stronger effect from PBDE exposure.”

It is not entirely clear how PBDEs might impact fertility. A number of animal studies have found that PBDEs can impair neurodevelopment, reduce thyroid hormones, and alter levels of sex hormones. Both high and low thyroid hormone levels can disrupt normal menstrual patterns in humans, but this study did not find a link between PBDE exposure and irregular menstrual cycles.

Because the participants were mostly young, Mexican immigrant women who lived in an agricultural community, the researchers controlled for exposure to pesticides in their analysis. The researchers also controlled for other variables known to impact fertility, such as irregularity of menstrual cycles, frequency of intercourse, pre-pregnancy body mass index, use of birth control pills in the year before conception, smoking, and alcohol and caffeine consumption.

There are some 209 different possible formulations of PBDEs, but only three mixtures – pentaBDE, octaBDE and decaBDE – have been developed for commercial use as flame retardants. The mixtures are distinguished by the average number of bromine atoms attached to each molecule. Like many other studies, the most prevalent PBDEs in the blood of women participating in the UC Berkeley study were four components of the pentaBDE mixture.

Penta- and octaBDE have both been banned for use in several U.S. states, including California, but they are still present in products made before 2004. Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an agreement with three major manufacturers of decaBDE to phase out its production by 2013.

“Although several types of PBDEs are being phased out in the United States, our exposure to the flame retardants is likely to continue for many years,” said the study’s principal investigator, Brenda Eskenazi, UC Berkeley professor of epidemiology and of maternal and child health at the School of Public Health. “PBDEs are present in many consumer products, and we know they leach out into our homes. In our research, we have found that low-income children in California are exposed to very high levels of PBDEs, and this has us concerned about the next generation of Californians.”

Keeping up with the ever-expanding range of chemicals in our environment is challenging, the researchers noted. As PBDEs are being phased out, they are being replaced with other brominated compounds. “We know even less about the newer flame retardant chemicals that are coming out,” said Harley. “We just don’t have the human studies yet to show that they are safe.”

A 2007 state assembly bill that would have banned all brominated and chlorinated chemical flame retardants from household furniture and bedding sold in California failed to pass.

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Other co-authors of the study are Amy Marks, Jonathan Chevrier and Asa Bradman from the Center for Children’s Environmental Health Research at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health; and Andreas Sjödin from the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The National Institute of Environmental Health Science, the U.S. EPA and the CDC helped support this research.

Prenatal exposure to flame-retardant compounds affects neurodevelopment ( IQ ) of young children: polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)

Contact: Stephanie Berger sb2247@columbia.edu 212-305-4372 Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health

January 19, 2010 — Prenatal exposure to ambient levels of flame retardant compounds called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) is associated with adverse neurodevelopmental effects in young children, according to researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

The study is online in Environmental Health Perspectives and will be released in the April 2010 print issue.

PBDEs are endocrine-disrupting chemicals and widely used flame-retardant compounds that are applied to a broad array of textiles and consumer products, including mattresses, upholstery, building materials, and electronic equipment.   Because the compounds are additives rather than chemically bound to consumer products, they can be released into the environment.  Human exposure may occur through dietary ingestion or through inhalation of dust containing PBDEs.

The researchers found that children with higher concentrations of PBDEs in their umbilical cord blood at birth scored lower on tests of mental and physical development between the ages of one and six. Developmental effects were particularly evident at four years of age, when verbal and full IQ scores were reduced 5.5 to 8.0 points for those with the highest prenatal exposures.

“The neurodevelopmental effects of prenatal exposure to PBDEs have not previously been studied among children in North America, where levels are typically higher than in Europe or Asia,” said Julie Herbstman, PhD, first author on the paper and a research scientist in Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health.  “The findings are consistent with effects observed in animal studies and, if replicated in other North American populations, they could have important public health implications.”

Frederica Perera, DrPh, professor of  Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School, CCCEH Director, and coauthor added, “These findings are of potential concern, because IQ is a predictor of future educational performance; and the observed reductions in IQ scores are in the range seen with low level lead exposure.” This research underscores the need for preventive policies to reduce toxic exposures occurring in utero.”

The investigators controlled for factors that have previously been linked to neurodevelopment in other studies, including ethnicity, mother’s IQ, child’s sex, gestational age at birth, maternal age, prenatal exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, maternal education, material hardship, and breast feeding.

The study is part of a broader project examining the effects of chemicals released by the World Trade Center’s destruction on pregnant women and their children. However, residential proximity to the World Trade Center site did not affect levels of PBDE exposure.

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Other investigators from the Mailman School of Public Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are Andreas Sjödin, PhD, Matthew Kurzon, MS, Sally A. Lederman, PhD, Richard S. Jones, Virginia Rauh, PhD, Larry L. Needham, PhD, Deliang Tang, MD, DrPH, Megan Niedzwiecki, and Richard Y. Wang, DO.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, the New York Community Trust, the New York Times Company Foundation, and the September 11 Children’s Fund.

About the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health

The Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health –part of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health — is a leading research organization dedicated to understanding and preventing environmentally related disease in children. Founded in 1998, the Center conducts research in New York City, including the study of mothers and children in Northern Manhattan and South Bronx, a World Trade Center Study, as well as cohort studies in Krakow, Poland, and Chongqing, China. Its mission is to improve the respiratory health and cognitive development of children and to reduce their cancer risk by identifying environmental toxicants and conditions related to poverty that increase their risk of disease. In NYC, the Center collaborates with residents and partner organizations in Washington Heights, Harlem and the South Bronx to share research findings with the local communities in ways that are meaningful and usable in daily life. The CCCEH is one of several National Centers funded by the NIEHS and EPA and one of three Disease Investigation through Specialized Clinically-Oriented Ventures In Environmental Research (DISCOVER) Centers funded by the NIEHS. www.ccceh.org.

About the Mailman School of Public Health

The only accredited school of public health in New York City and among the first in the nation, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting millions of people locally and globally. The Mailman School is the recipient of some of the largest government and private grants in Columbia University’s history. Its more than 1000 graduate students pursue master’s and doctoral degrees, and the School’s 300 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as infectious and chronic diseases, health promotion and disease prevention, environmental health, maternal and child health, health over the life course, health policy, and public health preparedness. www.mailman.columbia.edu

Contact:  Stephanie Berger, Mailman School of Public Health, 212-305-4372, sb2247@columbia.edu