Childhood Exposure to Flame Retardant Chemicals Declines but Do Not Disappear

Temporal trends and developmental patterns of plasma polybrominated diphenyl ether concentrations over a 15-year period between 1998 and 2013

NEW YORK (April 4, 2018) — Exposure to flame retardants once widely used in consumer products has been falling, according to a new study by researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. Although the chemicals were present in all children tested, the researchers are the first to show that levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) measured in children significantly decreased over a 15 year period between 1998 and 2013. The Center previously linked exposure to PBDEs with attention problems and lower scores on tests of mental and psychomotor development in children.


Toddlers had the highest concentrations of BDE in their blood than at any other age, possibly because they spend more time on the floor and have more contact with dust at this age.

Though levels of these flame retardants are decreasing over time, investigators found PBDEs in every child blood sample.

“These findings suggest that while pentaBDE levels have been decreasing since the phase-out, they continue to be detected in the blood of young children nearly 10 years following their removal from U.S. commerce”

says Whitney Cowell, the study’s first author and pediatric environmental health research fellow at Mt. Sinai.

“However, since the phase-out of PBDEs, we have begun to detect other flame retardant chemicals in children, which are likely being used as replacements.”

says senior author Julie Herbstman, associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences.


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