Parents of small children know that day care centers and preschools are notorious providers of germs the whole family can share, but what they might not be aware of is that they also pose a danger because their furnishings often are treated with flame retardants.
The chemicals in flame retardants, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and tris phosphate compounds, have been linked to hormone disruption and lower IQs in children. According to a study published in the journal Chemosphere, they were found in 100% of the dust samples collected from 40 child care centers serving more than 1,760 children in Northern California.
As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the study was conducted by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health. They said that the results were representative of what's found in many homes and other environments because the chemicals have been widely used for decades in the polyurethane foam inside upholstered furniture.
In the early 1970s, California imposed requirements that upholstered furniture be manufactured with flame retardant chemicals. Those measures became standard elsewhere as well. But they were changed to enable flammability standards to be met without the use of the chemicals. As we noted earlier this week in our Patient Safety blog, “Burn Surgeon’s Testimony Tainted by Conflict of Interest,” chemical industry interests have tried to promote these dangerous substances using unsavory and misleading means.
Although PBDEs have been banned in California for almost a decade, they’re still found in older furniture and other products. And in many cases, their replacement was chlorinated tris, never mind that it had been removed from children's pajamas in 1977, according to The Chronicle, after it was found to mutate the DNA of people exposed to it. In California, it’s considered a carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance.
The Chemosphere study found levels of PBDEs in the child-care facilities to be somewhat lower than what previous studies found in residences. But the amounts of chlorinated tris were similar or higher than household levels found in other reports.
The authors said that the higher tris levels probably were found in the mats children use for napping, as well as in furniture. Of the facilities studied, 29 had upholstered furniture and 17 had napping mats made of foam.
To minimize your child’s exposure to these chemicals:
- Choose natural fiber wall coverings instead of paint.
- Use cleaning supplies without harsh chemicals.
- Maintain a low level of dust.
- Cover childrens' mats with cotton sheets.
And don’t despair: Despite the study's results, Asa Bradman, its lead author and an environmental health scientist, told The Chronicle, "People shouldn't panic and feel like child care is toxic for children."