A recent study at Oregon State University has linked childhood exposure to flame retardants to “aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention and bullying.” The study adds to a growing body of evidence proving how dangerous flame retardants can be. They aren’t just carcinogenic, they may also have serious behavioral effects on the population. These findings, along with those linking lead exposure to violent crime, show that the prevelance of toxins in our modern world may have far reaching consequences on our society.
Oregon State University
CORVALLIS, Ore. – Some chemicals added to furniture, electronics and numerous other goods to prevent fires may have unintended developmental consequences for young children, according to a pilot study released today.
Researchers from Oregon State University found a significant relationship between social behaviors among children and their exposure to widely used flame retardants, said Molly Kile, an environmental epidemiologist and associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.
“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 Kile, the corresponding author of the study, which was published today in the journal Environmental Health.
“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.”
Flame retardants are found throughout the built environment in furniture, mattresses, carpeting, electronics, vehicles and more. The chemicals are added to the products and are not bound in the material, which causes them to be released into indoor environments.
Manufacturers began adding flame retardants in 1975, in response to new legislation in California designed to reduce flammability in common household items. The state updated its flammability standards in 2014, and now allows furniture manufacturers to meet the standards without adding flame retardant chemicals to their products, but the chemicals are still widely used and they linger in the indoor environment.
There are growing concerns that some flame retardants may have unintended impacts on health and development in children, and this study contributes to that body of research.
The most common types of flame retardants found in the built environment are brominated diphenyl ethers (BDEs) and organophosphate-based flame retardants (OPFRs). OPFRs emerged as an alternative to BDEs in an effort to address some of the environmental health concerns posed by BDEs, which tend to remain in the environment for long periods.
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.
“The social skills children learn during preschool set the foundation for their success in school, and also for their social and emotional health and well-being later in life,” said Shannon Lipscomb, an associate professor and lead of the human development and family sciences program at OSU-Cascades and a co-author of the study.