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Study: Flame Retardants Impact Child Behavior

Monday, March 20, 2017

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In a new pilot study, Oregon State University researchers report that they have found a significant link between social behaviors in children and their exposure to flame retardant chemicals.

"When we analyzed behavior assessments and exposure levels, we observed that the children who had more exposure to certain types of the flame retardant were more likely to exhibit externalizing behaviors such as aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention and bullying," said Molly Kile, an environmental epidemiologist, associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU and the corresponding author of the study.

The study findings were recently published in the journal Environmental Health.

Growing Concerns

While there are growing concerns about the health risks associated with the chemicals commonly found in insulation and on furniture, mattresses and other consumer products, Kile said this study was an interesting contribution to existing research because no one had ever looked at the behavioral impact.

Different organizations have called for bans citing health concerns. In 2015, the Green Science Policy Institute, the American Academy of Pediatrics, International Association of Fire Fighters and several other associations submitted a petition to the Consumer Safety Commission.

That report looked at the health hazards in organohalogen flame retardants such as their links to cancer, infertility, reduced IQ, learning deficits and hormone disruptions.

© / CraigRJD

Children who had more exposure to certain types of the flame retardant were more likely to exhibit externalizing behaviors such as aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention and bullying, the study's authors said.

The group at OSU admits that a future study is needed.

Study Details

The team recruited 92 Oregon children between ages 3-5 to wear silicone wristbands for seven days to measure their exposure to flame retardants. Those wristbands have a porous surface that mimics a cell, allowing it to absorb the chemicals that the person wearing it is exposed to, the researchers said.

Then, researchers had primary caregivers complete questionnaires about socio-demographics and the child’s home environment while preschool teachers completed behavior assessments. They collected data for 69 children.

The analysis showed that all of the children were exposed to some level of flame retardant. This isn’t surprising, since the chemicals are added to products and are not bound into the material therefore constantly being released into the environment, the researchers said.

However, the children with higher exposure to organophosphate-based flame retardants showed less responsible behavior and more aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention and bullying behaviors. The children with higher exposure to brominated diphenyl ethers were seen as less assertive, the study found.

"We detected these links between flame retardant and children's social behaviors while controlling for differences in family demographics, home learning environments and adversity," said Shannon Lipscomb, an associate professor and lead of the human development and family sciences program at OSU-Cascades and a co-author of the study.

"This suggests that flame retardants may have a unique effect on development apart from the effects of children's early social experiences."

Lipscomb also addressed the long-term impact, because the social skills children learn during preschool “set the foundation for their success in school and also for their social and emotional health and wellbeing later in life.”

Economical Impact

Despite this and other studies that put flame retardants’ links to health risks in the spotlight and agencies such as the EPA and large corporations such as California-based hospital Kaiser Permanente speaking out against the chemicals, global demand is still expected to climb in the coming years.

Consumer Product Safety Commission

In June 2014, when Kaiser Permanente announced it would phase out all of its flame-retardant furniture, the ACC warned that making the switch could compromise safety.

The market, valued at $6 billion in 2014, is anticipated to reach $10 billion by 2020, according to a Zion Research study published last spring. The building and construction market makes up the largest segment for flame retardants with about 30 percent of the market share.

The American Chemistry Society was unable to comment before this article went to press, and the American Chemistry Council has not released an official statement, however in June 2014, when Kaiser Permanente announced it would phase out all of its flame-retardant furniture, the ACC warned that making the switch could compromise safety.

“It is unfortunate that Kaiser Permanente could be sacrificing fire safety when flame retardants, like all chemicals, are already subject to review by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory bodies in the U.S. and around the world,” said the ACC’s North American Flame Retardant Alliance.

Oregon scientists, though, seem to err on the side of limiting a child’s exposure despite how constantly they are around the chemicals. Kile again pointed to the need for more studies.

"The results of this research to date have shown potential impacts for child health and warrant a more thorough investigation," Kile said. "If scientists find strong evidence that exposure to flame retardants affects children's behaviors, we can develop strategies that prevent these exposures and help improve children's lives. This type of public health science is needed to figure out how to address the root causes of behavioral concerns that can affect children's school readiness and overall well-being."


Tagged categories: American Chemical Society; American Chemistry Council; Flame-retardant coatings; Good Technical Practice; hazardous materials; Health and safety; North America; Safety

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