EWG-Duke study finds five times as much cancer-causing fire retardants in children as in mothers

by Environmental Working Group, press release

couch-reading 320 x 174Washington, D.C. – Scientists at the Environmental Working Group and Duke University have found evidence that the average level of a cancer-causing fire retardant chemical in the bodies of children tested was nearly five times the average in their mothers, according to a new report released today.

In the first published scientific study to analyze children’s exposure to TDCIPP, a fire retardant chemical and recognized carcinogen, researchers tested the urine of 22 mothers and 26 children. A chemical called BDCIPP, a “metabolite” formed when TDCIPP breaks down in the body, was found in the urine of all those tested. The average level of BDCIPP in children one to five years old was 4.9 times that of the average in their mothers. In the most extreme case, a child had 23 times the level of BDCIPP measured in the mother.

TDCIPP and other fire retardants are found in polyurethane foam used in furniture, automotive cushioning, baby bedding, changing table pads and nursing pillows. Fire retardant chemicals migrate out of consumer products over time and contaminate household dust and people.

“As a mother of a two-year-old and pregnant with a second child, these findings are eye opening and worrisome,” said Josephine Wilson, an EWG-Duke study participant. “My children may be exposed to toxic chemicals every day that might be harmful. It¹s time for the government and the chemical industry to do everything they can to better protect our families.”

[Click here to read Josephine Wilson’s personal account as a study participant.]

The fire retardants investigated by the EWG-Duke study are being used as replacements for an older class of chemical fire retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. These were taken off the market after scientists linked them to neurodevelopmental problems in children and altered thyroid function in pregnant women.

“Phasing out the use of toxic fire retardants, only to see them being replaced with chemicals that might be just as harmful, is not progress,” said Dr. Johanna Congleton, a senior scientist at EWG and author of the report. “Some of these chemicals are suspected of disrupting hormone signaling and can cause cancer in animals, so it’s even more troubling we are finding them in young children who are in early and critical stages of development.”

California health authorities have listed TDCIPP as a known carcinogen under a state law known as Proposition 65,which requires that the public be informed when they may be exposed to chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has characterized this chemical as a probable human carcinogen.

In the EWG-Duke study, metabolites of three other chemical components of a fire retardant mixture called Firemaster 550 were detected in the urine of most children tested. The long-term effects on human exposure to this mixture are unknown, but animal testing has shown it can disrupt hormones and systems critical to growth, metabolism and sexual development.

“Children end up ingesting more of these flame retardant chemicals because they spend a lot of time on the floor near the contaminated dust and often put their hands in their mouths,” said Dr. Heather Stapleton, an associate professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “Our study shows that children who washed their hands frequently had lower urinary levels of one fire retardant chemical metabolite. Hand washing, especially before eating, may help to reduce some exposures.”

California is the only state that requires upholstered furniture to meet flammability standards. However, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is in the process of developing a national standard. If it encourages the use of fire retardant chemicals, Americans’ exposure to these toxic substances could substantially increase.

The report recommends that the government:

  • Ban fire retardant chemicals in products intended for babies and children.
  • Require furniture manufacturers to label their products and disclose which specific fire retardant chemicals are present.
  • Reform federal policies so that chemicals undergo toxicity testing before they are sold in the American marketplace.

The peer reviewed study was published on Aug. 4, 2014, in Environmental Science & Technology. Click here to read the full report: “No Escape: Tests Find Toxic Fire Retardants in Mothers – and Even More in Toddlers.”

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