Researchers at Simon Fraser University in Canada found that a 10-fold increase in polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) concentrations in early pregnancy, when the fetal brain is developing, was associated with a 4.5 IQ drop, comparable with the impact of environmental lead exposure.
For their study, the research team measured the levels of PBDEs in 309 U.S. women at 16 weeks of pregnancy, and followed their children to the age of five.
The findings confirm earlier studies that found PBDEs, which are routinely found in pregnant women and children, may be developmental neurotoxicants, the researchers assert.
“The results from this and other observational human studies support efforts to reduce Penta-BDE exposures, especially for pregnant women and young children,” said health sciences professor Bruce Lanphear, Ph.D.
“Unfortunately, brominated flame retardants are persistent and North Americans are likely exposed to higher PBDE levels than people from other parts of the world. Because of this, it is likely to take decades for the PBDE levels in our population to be reduced to current European or Asian levels.”
PBDEs have been used as flame retardants in furniture, carpet padding, car seats, and other consumer products over the past three decades.
While PBDEs were voluntarily withdrawn from the U.S. market in 2004, products manufactured before then may still contain PBDEs, which can continue to be released into the environment and accumulate via indoor dust, the scientists explain, noting that nearly all homes and offices still contain some PBDEs.
Lanphear notes additional research is needed to highlight the impact of PBDE exposure on the developing brain. He also notes that it is important to investigate related chemicals and other flame retardants used to replace PBDEs.
The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Source: Simon Fraser University