Flame Retardant and Neurological Development in Newborns

brain children neuro development A new study in Environmental Health Perspectives written by KS Betts and colleagues looks at the effect of a flame retardant that is used commonly in home and office furnishings as well as electronics and airplanes. The product is called polybrominated diphenyl ether and in this article I will call it PBDE.

Even though products with this chemical, have been banned in Europe, they are still manufactured and used in United States. Most recently manufacturers have agreed to voluntarily discontinue all of these products by the end of 2012. However that is a long time away.

In this study they looked at 150 US children born within 2 miles of the World Trade Center attack in 2001. These women were gathered for the study to look at the effects of exposure to compounds in the dust from the destroyed towers of 911.

PDBE's were measured in the cord blood of over 150 of these children who later participated in at least one session of neuro-developmental testing that was conducted at age 1, 2,3,4,and 6 years of age.

Unfortunately the children who had higher levels of exposures in their cord blood consistently had, on average, lower developmental scores at each of the ages mentioned, compared with those children who were less exposed to the toxic substance.

The relationship was especially strong at age 4 years.

The authors are quick to point out that "it is certain" that sources other than the World Trade Center contributed to the PBDE levels in the children's cord blood.

Of interest is that the cord blood levels observed in these children were indeed similar to those reported in other parts of the United States which suggests that these effects could be widespread. So it is not clear to me if the WTC dust had anything to do with the results of this study.

The authors point out that these findings are consistent with reports of hyperactivity as well as learning and memory deficits found in experiments with mice who were also exposed to PBDE's.

Another recent study has shown that PBDE's may interfere with thyroid hormones as their mechanism of action for interfering with normal brain development.

The authors point out that they are doing more experiments relating to PBDE's developmental effects. Of course in the meantime they recommend that people avoid exposure to these compounds especially pregnant women and newborns.

Unfortunately, these types of exposures are occurring to all women before and during pregnancy. And this is why I advise my patients not to redecorate their house or use nail polish or perfumes with phthalates while they are pregnant.



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