Flame Retardants Blamed for IQ Drop

Flame retardants commonly found in furniture have been linked to learning deficits and decreased IQ in children.

That’s the finding of researchers at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University. The researchers, who recently published their work in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, said they found a 4.5 point drop in IQ and hyperactivity among five-year-olds could be tied to their mother’s time spent in the vicinity of furniture sprayed with flame retardant during their pregnancy.

The flame retardants in question are known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PDBEs. For years they were used to protect couches, carpets, and other household items. Not until 2004 — the same year the Simon Fraser University researchers began their study — did North American manufacturers finally begin to phase out PDBEs.

But only now are researchers really discovering the cost of using PDBEs. It’s led experts like Bruce Lanphear, a health sciences professor at SFU, to recommend the introduction of “a regulatory framework … to make sure these products, these chemicals, are safe before they’re marketed to children and pregnant women.”

The problem is that, even though manufacturers stopped using PDBEs a decade ago, many products sprayed with these chemicals can still be found in homes throughout the United States and Canada.

Another issue, according to Lanphear: when manufacturers ditched PDBEs, they switched to new chemicals. The question is this: did those manufacturers really know if the alternative formula was safer?

“It’s not simply about the flame retardants,” Lanphear said. “If we replace them with a chemical that hasn’t been sufficiently studied and it turns out to be toxic, have we really solved the problem?”

Lanphear hopes his research team’s study will lead manufacturers to more closely study their chemicals before using them on household products.


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