UC Berkeley researchers find flame retardants in child care facilities with potential to affect neurodevelopment

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A study led by UC Berkeley researchers detected the presence of flame retardants in child care facilities in Alameda and Monterey counties that potentially exposed infants and young children to hazardous chemicals that could affect their neurodevelopment.

Flame retardants are compounds that can be found in plastic and foam materials and are added to furniture by manufacturers as a way to meet California’s flammability standard. In the first review of its kind to test for flame retardants in children’s spaces, researchers collected air and dust samples from 40 child care centers, which were then tested for flame retardant compounds.

“There’s evidence across the population of a slight decrease in the IQ of all kids across California due to flame retardants in their bodies,” said Arlene Blum, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley and the executive director of Green Science Policy Institute.

Asa Bradman, associate director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health, led the team of researchers. In addition to testing for the presence of flame retardants, Bradman and his team also tested for pesticides and formaldehyde, among other harmful chemicals.

Bradman could not specify which child care facilities were tested in the study for confidentiality reasons.

The flame retardants were found in every dust sample collected but were comparably less prevalent in the air samples.

“Historically, there’s been in the last 20 or 30 years or so a lot of focus on the environment and children’s health, beginning with lead,” Bradman said. “There was a gradual realization that children are more vulnerable than adults because they have higher exposure because they eat more, drink more, breathe more for their body weight.”

The level of flame retardants found in the child care facilities was not drastically different from the amount in average households, Bradman said. Flame retardants were most prevalent in child care spaces with upholstered furniture and manufactured foam products.

Beginning next year in California, upholstered furniture will no longer be required to contain flame retardants, according to Blum, who has conducted similar research on flame retardants.
Once the law is in place, manufacturers will need to tag their products with labels indicating they do not contain flame retardants.

“People need to look for products with the label and also need to make sure by asking in the store whether or not there are flame retardants present,” Blum said.

To minimize the presence of flame retardants, Bradman recommends cleaning thoroughly using a wet mop and keeping areas free of dust and using vacuum cleaners with certain filters.

“What materials are we using, what are we being exposed to and what can we use that’s less toxic before it’s put into use?” Bradman said. “There’s also a policy change, and less of these materials will be present in furniture (and) in home environments, and exposures will also go down.”

Contact Natalie Meier at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @nat_meier.