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Prenatal exposure to flame retardants linked to children’s lower IQ and hyperact

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PBDE exposure equal to that of lead exposure

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Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are used as flame retardants in plastics and in textile coatings. Serious health effects have been linked to PBDE exposure however, toxicity depends on the compound and the amount that one is exposed to.

In a new study involving Simon Fraser University researchers had examined whether in utero exposure to PBDEs is associated with child cognitive function and behavior in a U.S. study sample.

In a prospective birth cohort, researchers measured maternal serum concentrations of BDE-47 and other PBDE congeners in 309 women who were enrolled in the Health Outcomes and Measures of the Environment (HOME) Study, between March 2003 and February 2006 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The mothers were 16 weeks of gestation, over 18 years, resided in a house built before 1978, had no history of HIV infection and were not on medication for seizures or thyroid disorders and their children were followed in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The researchers measured PBDE concentrations during early pregnancy. The mothers provided blood samples at the prenatal enrollment visit.

Cognitive and motor abilities were measured using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development-II; at one, two and three years. Children’s behavior was measured by using he Behavioral Assessment System for Children-2 annually at ages two to five years.

The researchers found that a 10-fold increase in PBDE concentrations in early pregnancy, when the fetal brain is developing, was associated with a 4.5 IQ decrement, which is comparable with the impact of environmental lead exposure.

The researcher s say that these results confirm previous study findings that suggest PBDEs may be developmental neurotoxins

Professor Bruce Lanphear, MD, MPH, Scientist Level 3, CFRI, Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University and one of the researchers of this study commented in a public release "The results from this and other observational human studies support efforts to reduce Penta-BDE exposures, especially for pregnant women and young children.” "Unfortunately, brominated flame retardants are persistent and North Americans are likely exposed to higher PBDE levels than people from other parts of the world. Because of this it is likely to take decades for the PBDE levels in our population to be reduced to current European or Asian levels."

The researchers write “The research highlights the need to reduce inadvertent exposure to PBDEs in the home and office environment (e.g., via dust), and in diet (e.g., via fish or meat products), to avert potential developmental neurotoxicity in pregnant women and young children Additional research is needed to illustrate the mechanistic pathways linking PBDE exposure and neurodevelopmental deficits and to investigate BDE-209 and OH-PBDEs for human developmental toxicity. Finally, research on the neurodevelopmental toxicity of the other flame retardants used to replace PBDEs is also urgently needed.”

While PBDEs were voluntarily withdrawn from the U.S. market in 2004, products manufactured before then may still contain PBDEs, which can continue to be released into the environment and accumulate via indoor dust.

This study is published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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