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Chemicals to protect against fire have a negative impact on children
Flame retardant chemicals, which are commonly used in sofas and vinyl floors, are toxic to our children. If children live in environments where materials with these harmful substances are common, this is associated with greatly increased toxin levels in the blood and urine.
In their current investigation, Duke University scientists found that fire-resistant foam leads to an increased toxin load in children. Physicians are presenting the results of their study at this year's annual meeting of the American Association for Advancement of Science.
Flame retardant chemicals are common in social housing
Children living in social housing (where fireproof materials are common) were found to have 15 times higher levels of toxins in their blood and urine compared to children without contact with refractory foam. This is another reason that leads to health inequalities between rich and poor people. Flame retardant chemicals (known as PBDE) are associated with developmental delay, obesity, endocrine and thyroid disruption, cancer and other diseases. There are concerns that these chemicals could affect the developing brain, the researchers say.
How do the PBDEs get into the body?
PBDEs are chemicals with strong properties that disrupt hormones. Nevertheless, they have been added to all kinds of products since the 1970s to make them less prone to flames. Over time, these chemicals rub off the products and then accumulate on the surface. In the case of a television set, for example, this means that dust accumulating on the television set can mix with the PDBEs. This is how these chemicals can be inhaled. When the dangers of PDBEs became known, there were stricter restrictions on their use to limit exposure.
What do benzyl butyl phthalate and phthalates do?
Benzyl butyl phthalate was mainly used as a plasticizer for PVC. It has been associated with respiratory problems, skin irritation, multiple myeolma and reproductive disorders. The harmful chemicals are widespread in homes with flame retardants, for example in household dust. This is particularly dangerous for small children who spend most of their time indoors.
So-called phthalates, which can be found in vinyl floors and carpets, also interfere with the way we store fat, which promotes obesity. In 2010, 80 percent of the consumer goods tested by the authors contained these chemicals. Since the regulatory authorities have cracked down, it has only dropped to around 20 percent. However, there is no general ban and the chemicals continue to be used, particularly in public housing, where floors and furniture often still contain the toxic substances. Regulators have already found the chemicals in completely unexpected places. For example, a study from last year showed that PDBEs were found in farmed fish in the USA and in the EU.
What chemicals were found?
The aim of the study was to examine the links between certain products and children's exposure and to determine how exposure occurred, whether through oral ingestion, skin contact, or accidental inhalation of dust, the study authors explain. Samples of indoor air and indoor dust were taken, and the urine and blood of the children were examined. Then 44 biomarkers for exposure to various chemicals were quantified, including phthalates, organophosphate esters, brominated flame retardants, parabens, phenols and antibacterial agents as well as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Children from homes where the sofa in the main living area contained PBDEs had a six-fold higher concentration of PBDEs in their blood. In children from living rooms who had vinyl floors in all areas, it was found that the concentrations of the benzyl butyl phthalate metabolite in the urine were 15 times higher than in children who did not have vinyl floors, the experts report in a press release. (as)