A small study by the Environmental Working Group has found that toddlers and preschoolers have three times as much PBDE flame retardant in their blood as their parents, suggesting that small children may be more at risk of exposure to the ubiquitous chemical.
The study, of just 20 families, can't be considered conclusive, and doesn't suggest there are specific health risks because of the exposure. Eleven forms of PBDE were found in the children tested, and children age 1.5-4 showed higher levels than their parents in 86% of tests.
But because PBDEs, in animal studies, have been linked to disrupting hormones, and because children are generally more at risk from exposure to harmful chemicals because their organs are still developing and lower concentrations can have a disproportionate effect on them, the findings are cause for some concern.
PBDE stands for polybrominated diphenyl ethers, a class of related chemicals each with slightly different uses and potential health risks. Europe and some U.S. states have banned the use of some PBDEs, which are in such wide use in part because other flame retardants have been banned because of their toxicity. Promoters of PBDEs point out that reducing fire risk from consumer products, like furniture and electronics, has saved many lives, and the risks of toxic exposure or hormonal disruption is small or unproven.
The findings make intuitive sense: Small children spend a lot more time crawling around, picking up dust and objects, and putting their hands or those objects into their mouths.
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