6 February 2013. Chemicals are used to help prevent textiles and other products from catching fire. The most successful flame retardants contain bromine and have a chemical structure that looks like PCBs. These brominated flame retardants have been extensively used in California because of a fire safety law from the 1970s. Human exposures to these compounds are higher at the US west coast than anywhere in the world.
Some of the flame retardants have been phased out due to their persistence and accumulation in the environment. Some of the brominated compounds are neurotoxic to rodents. Several small studies suggest that prenatal or early postnatal exposure may be toxic to brain development in children.
Just published results from the Chamacos study in California measured exposures to brominated flame retardants from their concentrations in the mother’s serum concentration of during pregnancy and from blood samples obtained from their children at age 7 years.
More than 300 children were examined in regard to a variety of brain functions at ages 5 and 7. The clearest deficits occurred in attention span at age 5 and IQ at age 7. The children’s accumulated burden at age 7 also appeared to contribute to the deficits. Several other chemical brain drainers also occur in the Salinas, CA environment, but they did not seem to confound the study.
The report is released at the same time as the EU standards organization for electronic equipment (CENELEC) is discussing whether TV sets should comply with a strict fire safety rule. The chemical industry thinks it is extremely important to prevent fires. The Chicago Tribune has recently uncovered the deceptive campaigns and misinformation spread by vested interests. If fire safety is achieved by using toxic chemicals, the EU may be repeating the California experiment, and we will soon find that EU children are accumulating chemical flame retardants that may be toxic to brain cells. The choice is not between fire safety and brain safety. Both are needed, but the alleged need for toxic flame retardants in TV sets and other consumer products is not justified.