Researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) have found a significant relationship between social behaviors among young children and their exposure to widely used flame retardants.
The finding, contained in a pilot study released Thursday, points to some chemicals in furniture, electronics and other goods to help prevent fires.
As these chemicals, which are found throughout the built environment in furniture, mattresses, carpeting, electronics, vehicles and more, are added to the products and are not bound in the material, they are often released into indoor environments.
“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,” said Molly Kile, an environmental epidemiologist and associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.
The most common types of flame retardants found in the built environment are brominated diphenyl ethers (BDEs), which tend to remain in the environment for long periods; and organophosphate-based flame retardants (OPFRs), which emerged as an alternative to BDEs in an effort to address some of the environmental health concerns posed by BDEs.
Past research has shown that both BDEs and OPFRs are linked to poorer cognitive function in children. But less is known about the relationship between the flame retardants and children’s social and emotional health, particularly during early childhood, a key developmental period for learning.
In their study, published in the journal Environmental Health, the OSU research team recruited 92 Oregon children between ages 3-5 to wear a silicone wristband for seven days to measure exposure to flame retardants.
As an easy and non-invasive way to sample children’s chemical exposure, the wristbands developed by Kim Anderson of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences have a porous surface that mimics a cell, absorbing chemicals that people are exposed to through their environment. When the wristbands are returned, Anderson can screen for up to 1,200 chemicals that may accumulate.
The researchers had parents or primary caregivers complete questionnaires about socio-demographics and the home environment, and preschool teachers completed behavior assessments for each participating child. In all, researchers had complete data and wristband results for 69 children.
Their analysis showed that all of the children were exposed to some level of flame retardant. Children who had higher exposure rates of OPFRs showed less responsible behavior and more aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention and bullying behaviors. Children with higher exposure to BDEs were seen as less assertive by their teachers.
All of these social skills play an important role in a child’s ability to succeed academically and socially.
“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,” Kile, the corresponding author of the study, was quoted as saying in a news release from OSU.
The researchers said further study is needed to better understand the links between flame retardants and children’s social skill development. (PNA/Xinhua)