New York: Prenatal exposure to some common flame retardants -- compounds added to materials such as plastics and textiles to prevent the spread of fire -- may contribute to attention problem in young children, new research has found.
The findings highlight the effects of prenatal exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) on children's development during both preschool and school age periods.
PBDEs are found in textiles, plastics, wiring and furniture containing polyurethane foam to reduce flammability.
Since PBDEs are not chemically bound to these materials, they migrate into the environment over time.
"These findings support the need to develop programmes for safely disposing of products containing PBDEs that are still in use," said study senior author Julie Herbstman, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.
Humans are commonly exposed to the chemicals through accidental ingestion of house dust and by eating meat, dairy, and fatty fish with accumulated PBDEs.
Researchers followed 210 mother-child pairs from birth through early childhood.
This cohort was established following the September 11, 2001 attack and designed to examine the effects of exposure to dust, smoke and fumes on child development.
Beginning at age three, researchers assessed child behaviour using a standardized rating scale, repeating the test ever year through age seven.
Cord blood samples were analyzed for PBDEs to assess prenatal exposure to the chemicals.
At ages three, four and seven years, children with the highest exposure to certain PBDEs had approximately twice the number of maternally-reported attention problems compared to other children in the study.
The results appeared in the journal of Neurotoxicology and Teratology.