Flame retardants are one category of toxins that really baffle me. Let me get it straight—we want to reduce the likelihood that our furniture, bedding, carpets, cribs and children’s pajamas catch on fire, but we need to spray these items with toxic chemicals that leach off over time in order to do so. Now, I do not mean in any way to minimize the danger of house fires because I know they can be tragic, but the odds of a house fire occurring against the odds of small children ingesting these toxic chemicals on a daily basis and ending up with cognitive deficits and hyperactivity (and who knows what else they may find before it’s all said and done) seem to be slim.

A recent study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting found that prenatal exposure to flame retardants is linked to lower intelligence and hyperactivity during early childhood. “We found that maternal exposure to PBDEs, a group of brominated flame retardants mostly withdrawn from the US market in 2004 was associated with deficits in child cognition at age 5 years and hyperactivity at ages 2 to 5 years,” stated lead researcher Aimim Chen, MD, PhD. “Our study adds to several other human studies to highlight the need to reduce exposure to PBDEs in pregnant women.”

Although PBDEs have been banned, they remain in old furniture, upholstery, carpeting, mattresses, electronics, and similar items. These chemicals break down slowly, so our exposure to them remains high, and once in the body they tend to remain for long periods of time. This study adds flame retardants to the ever-growing list of chemicals that have been linked to lower IQ in children.

Flame retardant exposure has been linked to a number of negative health effects. Some states are trying to ban other flame retardants that have replaced the PBDEs (and that are considered to be just as harmful as the previous flame retardants). I hope legislators move quickly on these regulations. Our health is on the line.