EWG-Duke Study Finds Children Have Higher Exposures to Toxic Fire Retardants

Photo by Kelly Taylor

Photo by Kelly Taylor


When fire retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, were pulled off the U.S. market due to toxicity concerns, public health advocates hoped they would be replaced with safer alternatives. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Scientists at the Environmental Working Group and Duke University recently released an analysis of children’s exposure to TDCIPP, a fire retardant chemical and recognized carcinogen. In urine tests of 22 mothers and 26 children, they found that the children’s level of exposure was nearly five times the average level in their mothers. In the most extreme case, a child had 23 times the level of the mother.

Click here to read the full report: No Escape: Tests Find Toxic Fire Retardants in Mothers – and Even More in Toddlers.

The EWG-Duke study, which was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, also showed that the children had elevated biomarkers of chemicals found in a fire retardant mixture called Firemaster® 550. Animal research has shown that Firemaster® 550 can cause behavioral effects and obesity. Other studies found that components of this mixture can affect the activity of a hormone receptor that regulates metabolism.

Fire retardant compounds are often added to the cushioning found in furniture, automobiles and baby products such as nursing pillows and changing-table pads. The chemicals migrate out of these items over time and contaminate dust particles in the air and on the floor, where children are likely to be playing. Children also frequently put their hands and toys in their mouths, which may increase their oral exposure to toxic chemicals.

The children tested in the EWG-Duke study were one-to-five years old. Their higher exposure to fire retardant chemicals is not a surprise, since previous EWG research found the same pattern with PBDEs. Early childhood encompasses critical windows of development and is a time when sensitivity to environmental chemicals might be higher. It is especially troubling that the children in the new study had elevated exposures to substances that might affect development and hormone signaling.

Parents can reduce their children’s exposure to toxic fire retardants by choosing furniture and baby products that are free of these chemicals. See EWG’s Healthy Home Tips page for other ideas.

Johanna Congleton PhD

Johanna Congleton is a Senior Scientist at the Environmental Working Group. She holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Toxicology and an MSPH in Environmental Science. A previous version of this blog appeared on the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families website.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of DrGreene.com. The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or DrGreene.com, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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