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BALTIMORE – In the first nationwide investigation of chemical fire retardants in parents and their children, Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that toddlers and pre-schoolers typically had three times more of the neurotoxic compounds in their blood as their mothers. The study suggests that U.S. children 1 to 4 years of age bear the heaviest burden of flame retardant pollution in the industrialized world.
Laboratory tests – conducted in collaboration with Dr. Åke Bergman, a preeminent environmental chemist – found that in 19 of 20 U.S. families, concentrations of the toxic chemicals known as PBDEs were significantly higher in 1- to 4-year-old children than in their mothers. The tests found the fire retardant Deca, banned in Europe but unregulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more often and in higher amounts in U.S. children than their mothers.
In 2005, the Maryland legislature passed a ban on Penta- and Octa-PBDEs that goes into effect on October 1st of this year. The original bill would have also banned Deca, but amendments to the bill took it out of the final ban. Last year, however, Delegate Jim Hubbard introduced a bill that would have banned Deca by 2010. Though it passed in the House, the bill did not make it through Senate committee. Delegate Hubbard intends to reintroduce a bill to ban Deca as one of the first bills of the 2009 legislative session.
"Maryland's elected officials must take action to ban these chemicals and to force industries to prove their chemicals are safe before they end up in every household in the state, "said Kristi Horvath, policy associate with Maryland PIRG.
The average level of PBDEs in the blood of children tested by EWG was about 62 parts per billion, compared to 25 ppb in their mothers. In the limited number of studies of this age group in other countries, Spanish, Norwegian and Australian children had levels 2 to 15 times lower than their U.S. counterparts.
“It’s well documented that U.S. adults are more exposed to chemical fire retardants than in other countries, but these findings show that young children are at even higher risk,” said Anila Jacob, M.D., EWG senior scientist and study co-author. “Parents want to protect their children, but once they are old enough to crawl or walk, they are more vulnerable to exposure from these and other toxic chemicals.”
Toxic fire retardants in everyday items like furniture, sofas, televisions and computers could expose children to concentrations exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended safe level. Children ingest more fire retardants and other toxins when they put their hands, toys and other objects in their mouths.
“Like most parents, I try hard to protect my child from harm, but it’s difficult when the threat is in everyday household products,” said Kate Canada a mother from Rodgers Forge, MD.
Children’s developing brains and reproductive systems are extraordinarily vulnerable to toxic chemicals. In the case of PBDEs, laboratory tests in peer-reviewed studies have found that a single dose administered to mice on a day when the brain is growing rapidly can cause permanent changes to behavior, including hyperactivity.
“The knowledge that toxic fire retardants have been found in young children at levels even higher than their parents is very concerning. These hormone disrupting chemicals are especially toxic to the developing brain,” said Brenda M Afzal, RN, MS, Director of Health Programs at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.
“These chemicals are everywhere - in food, in our homes and schools,” said Laurie Yung of Missoula, Mont., who was tested along with her 3-year-old son, Conner. “We need laws to protect us from exposure not only to these chemicals, but that will make sure chemicals are safe for kids before they’re allowed on the market.”
Other moms and kids in the study were from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C.
Even as the chemical industry insists Deca is safe, the European Union has banned it from use, 10 U.S. states are considering or have enacted legislative bans, and major electronics manufacturers including Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and Samsung no longer use Deca and are phasing-out other bromine-based fire retardants.
To read the report, follow this link to the EWG website: http://www.ewg.org/reports/pbdesintoddlers
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