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Your Environment. Your Health.

Childhood Exposure to Flame Retardant Chemicals Declines Following Phaseout

Julie Herbstman, Ph.D.
Columbia University
R01ES021806, T32ES023772, T32ES007322

An NIEHS-funded study found that childhood exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a flame retardant once widely used in consumer products, significantly decreased between 1998 and 2013. Exposure to PBDE was previously linked to attention problems and altered mental and physical development in children.

Researchers followed 334 mother-child pairs in New York City from before birth through adolescence. They collected umbilical cord blood at birth and blood from the children at ages 2, 3, 5, 7, and 9 years, and found PBDEs in every child blood sample. Over time, levels of BDE-47, the component of the PBDE mixture that is most frequently detected in humans, decreased by about 5 percent per year from 1998 to 2013. Looking only at only blood samples collected after birth, researchers observed a 13 percent decrease per year between 2000 and 2013.

Children who were 2 to 3 years old before the phaseout took effect in 2004 to 2005 had significantly higher levels of BDE-47 in their blood than children who turned age 2 to 3 years following the phaseout. Overall, children in that age group had the highest concentrations of BDE-47 in their blood than any other age group, perhaps because they spent more time on the floor and had more contact with dust.

According to the authors, these findings suggest that although PBDE levels have been decreasing since the phaseout, they continue to be detected in the blood of young children nearly 10 years following their removal from U.S. commerce.

Citation: Cowell WJ, Sjodin A, Jones R, Wang Y, Wang S, Herbstman JB. 2018. Temporal trends and developmental patterns of plasma polybrominated diphenyl ether concentrations over a 15-year period between 1998 and 2013. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol; doi:10.1038/s41370-018-0031-3 [Online 4 April 2018].

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