Flame retardants show up in our food (11/09) while new research suggests that they can affect the neurodevelopment of young children

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are a class of flame retardants that are commonly found in consumer products such as polyurethane foam, electronics and textiles, but they have been measured in dust, air and both animal and plant-derived foods.

Dust has been thought to be the foremost route of exposure to PBDEs, but the new findings of a team from Boston University School of Public Health suggest that diet also may play a significant role. Blood levels of PBDE congeners were found in those with a high consumption of fat from poultry and red meat but not in those with a high consumption of fish or dairy products.

Although it is not known how flame retardants get into commercial animal products, possibilities include the contamination of animal feed, contamination during processing or packaging and general contamination of the environment.

PBDEs have been shown to cause adverse endocrine, neurologic and hepatic effects in laboratory animals. Human studies to date suggest PBDEs may affect male development, reproductive hormones and fertility and
thyroid hormone homeostasis.

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Researchers at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH) at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Healthfound that children with higher concentrations of PBDEs in their umbilical cord blood at birth scored lower on tests of mental and physical development between the ages of one and six. Developmental effects were particularly evident at four years of age, when verbal and full IQ scores were reduced 5.5 to 8.0 points for those with the highest prenatal exposures.

The findings are consistent with effects observed in animal studies and, if replicated in other North American populations, they could have important public health implications.

The investigators controlled for factors that have previously been linked to neurodevelopment in other studies, including ethnicity, mother's IQ, child's sex, gestational age at birth, maternal age, prenatal exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, maternal education, material hardship, and breast feeding.

Environmental Health Perspectives in line / April 2010 print issue

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First Published November 2009 ands updat in January 2010

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