Flame-retardant home furnishings may cause aggressive behavior in children

March 27, 2019

Flame retardants originally were meant to protect us from dangerous, fast-spreading fires—but now, cautious parents are checking their sofas and upholstery; as well as electronic equipment, textiles, cleaning products, and even non-stick cookware, to ensure that they don’t contain these chemicals.

Over the past few years, scientists have warned that exposure to fire-resistant chemicals (PBDEs and OPFRs)—which seep out of home furnishings and into the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil in which we plant crops—can lead to lower IQs, hyperactivity, poor motor skills, and learning disabilities in developing babies and young children.

But now, Parents magazine reports, new research at Oregon State University in Corvallis has established a significant relationship between social behaviors among children and their exposure to flame retardants.

Indeed, Molly Kile, an environmental epidemiologist and associate professor in the College of Pubic Health and Human Sciences at OSU, noted, “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.”

Kile, the corresponding author of the study, which was published on March 9 in the journal Environmental Health, added, “”This is an intriguing finding because no one had previously studied the behavioral effects of organophosphate classes of flame retardants, which have been added to consumer products more recently.”

During the course of the study, the OSU team observed 92 children, ages three through five—all of whom had been exposed to some level of flame retardant chemicals. After analyzing data collected from parent, teacher, and caregiver questionnaires, the researchers found that the kids who were exposed to higher levels of the chemicals displayed more aggression.

The results are definitely a cause for concern, considering flame retardants have been around since the mid-1970s, and can be found in such a wide variety of items in the home. The Environmental Working Group— a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment— offers the following tips:

  • Buy flame-retardant-free products (check labels);
  • Vacuum with a HEPA filter and wet mop household surfaces;
  • Wash hands before eating;
  • Dispose of damaged cushions and replace with retardant-free versions; and
  • Don’t ever try to reupholster furniture or replace carpeting yourself.

Research contact: @parentsmagazine

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