Researchers Find Flame Retardant Chemicals Linked to Social, Behavior Problems in Children

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Researchers Find Flame Retardant Chemicals Linked to Social, Behavior Problems in Children

Believe it or not, Oregon State University researchers have found a strong association between children’s social behaviors and exposure to commonly used flame retardant chemicals. Moreover, certain chemicals used to prevent fires added to household items may have developmental consequences for children.

Dr. Molly Kile, environmental epidemiologist and associate professor at the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU:

“ we observed that the children who had more exposure to certain types of the flame retardant were more likely to exhibit…behaviors such as aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention, and bullying.”

Flame retardants are common, often found in the immediate environment in carpeting, furniture, electronics, and more. According to researchers, the chemicals are added to the items, but not fully absorbed in the material, allowing them to released into indoor environments.

The most widely-used flame retardants are brominated diphenyl ethers (BDEs) and organophosphate-based flame retardants (OPFRs). Manufacturers began using OPFRs to address health concerns over BDEs, which could remain in the environment for long periods of time.

Prior research has revealed that both BDEs and OPFRs are associated with decreased cognitive function in children.

However, a link between flame retardants and children’s social and emotional skills has not been as well established. Early childhood is a particularly critical time for development and learning.

For the study, which was published in the journal Environmental Health, 92 children aged 3-5 were recruited. Each wore a special silicone wristband for one week, to measure flame retardant exposure.

The wristbands have a porous surface and absorb chemicals people are exposed to in the environment. The wristbands were then tested for up to 1200 chemicals.

Researchers also had parents complete questionnaires about socio-demographics and home environment, and teachers filled out behavioral evaluations for each child. In total, researchers gathered complete data for 69 children. Analysis revealed that each of the children suffered exposure to some level of flame retardant.

As a result, researchers discovered that children with higher exposure rates to OFPRs exhibted less responsible behavior, and increased aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and bullying behaviors. Also, children with a higher exposure to BDEs were perceived by their teachers as less assertive.

Study co-author Dr. Shannon Lipscomb, associate professor:

“We detected these links between flame retardant and children’s social behaviors. This suggests that flame retardants may have a unique effect on development apart from the effects of children’s early social experiences.”

Researchers controlled for child age, gender, family context, and adverse experiences, and stated that more studies are needed to improve understanding of the relationship between children’s social and emotional development and exposure to flame retardants.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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