Are flame retardants poisoning Calif. kids?

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(CBS) What explains the high levels of flame retardants showing up in some children in California? One possibility is exposure to house dust, say the authors of a new study showing that Mexican-American kids living in the state had levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) seven times higher than the levels seem in similar kids living in Mexico.

PBDEs are used in a range of consumer products, including the foam padding in furniture, carpet pads, and crib mattresses, HealthDay reported. As these products break down over time, "they can release PBDEs into people's homes in the form of dust," study co-author Asa Bradman, an environmental scientists at the University of California at Berkeley, said. "And scientists know that when you have persistent pollutants in dust, they get into children."

That may not be a good thing for children's health. Evidence is growing that PBDEs can be toxic to the liver, thyroid, and brain, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

What can you do to reduce you or your family's exposure to PBDEs? Health Canada offers four suggestions:

  • Pick PBDE-free products. When you shop for electronics, furniture, carpet padding, mattresses, and other consumer products, ask the retailer about PBDE content.
  • Limit your consumption of fatty foods. PDBEs are more likely to be in meat and dairy products than in fruits and vegetables.

  • Clean your house often, especially if you have young children.
  • Cover or replace any exposed carpeting padding or foam pads on furniture or car seats.

The study, which involved 264 children in California and 283 in Mexico, was published online April 15 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

  • David W Freeman

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