Childhood Exposure to Flame Retardants, Pesticides Are Major Contributors to Cognitive Loss: Study

Flame retardants and pesticides use in many common household products now appear to be a leading cause of intellectual disability among children, following years of decline in problems linked to poisoning from lead, mercury and other heavy metals.

In a study published this week by the medical journal Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, researchers at the New York University School of Medicine indicate that pesticides and flame retardants may be the main source of contaminants causing cognitive loss among more than a million children, leading to a drop in IQ points over a 16 year period.

Researchers studied the effects of certain chemicals in everyday household products on cognition in children. They analyzed polybrominated biphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are used as flame retardants, organophosphates, lead, and methyl-mercury levels in samples of blood from women of child-bearing age and 5-year olds.

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The study analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys and data from known exposure-disease relationships to estimate the annual number of IQ points lost. They also quantified the intellectual disability medical costs.

According to the findings, nearly 1.2 million children were affected with some form of intellectual disability from 2001 to 2016 as a result of exposure to chemicals like pesticides and PBDEs.

IQ points dropped from 27 million points in 2001 to 2002 down to 9 million IQ points in 2015 to 2016. Furthermore, the proportion of cognitive loss resulting from exposure to the chemicals increased from 67% to 81% during the same study period.

PBDE exposure was the greatest contributor to intellectual disability burden, resulting in 162 million IQ points lost and 738,000 cases of intellectual disability.

Side effects from mercury and lead were prominent, but on the decline overall. Researchers speculate that may be because of decades of restrictions on heavy metals. However, pesticides and PBDEs have significantly fewer restrictions.

The study indicates childhood exposures to the chemicals cost the country more than $7.5 trillion in lost economic productivity and medical costs.

PBDEs and pesticides are endocrine disrupting chemicals known to cause neurodevelopment toxicity. However, the chemicals are widely used in consumer products and found in items like furniture upholstery, electronics, plastics, gymnastic equipment, even tuna fish. The chemicals can build up in the body and cause damage to the organs.

Additionally, heavy metals can disrupt brain and kidney function. Research has shown PBDE chemicals can interfere with thyroid function causing thyroid disease and can lead to thyroid cancer. Studies also link exposure during pregnancy to increased risk of preterm birth.

PBDEs has been found in household dust, the food supply and breast milk samples. More than 90% of adults and children have high levels of PBDE flame retardants in their bodies.

Researchers recommend consumers try to avoid using products manufactured with these chemicals. Additionally, frequently opening windows can let persistent chemicals from furniture, electronics, and carpeting escape. They advised eating organic produce and reducing toxin exposure as much as possible.

According to the researchers, this new study is the only long-term neurological investigation of this kind focusing on pesticides and PBDE flame retardant chemicals.


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