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Household pollutants

Household dust exposes families, children to toxic levels of brain-damaging flame retardants

Wednesday, January 31, 2007 by: David Guiterrez
Tags: household pollutants, infant health, breastfeeding


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(NewsTarget) The human body is able to absorb dangerous pollutants from household dust, according to an international study led by Boston University's School of Public Health.

Researchers found a statistically significant correlation between the levels of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants in women's breast milk and the level of dust of their homes. It is the first study to definitively confirm such a correlation.

The level of PBDEs found in the dust of an average household may be enough to cause neurological disorders and other serious health effects, according to PBDE research pioneer Heather Stapleton of Duke University.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released its draft guidelines on unsafe levels of PBDE exposure. Stapleton says that adults in an average home may be absorbing PBDE levels within an order of magnitude of these guidelines, and children may be absorbing levels beyond them.

Many scientists believe that even the EPA numbers are too conservative. The standards were calculated based on the dosage in which neurotoxic effects were observed in test animals, rather than using the "comparable body burdens" approach that is used for dioxins and PCBs. Like those substances, PBDEs are persistent organic pollutants (POP), known to accumulate in animal tissue. PBDEs are also known to have longer half-lives in humans than in many test animals.

POPs often have effects across generations, and may cause developmental problems in fetuses or young children.

Likely sources of PBDEs in household dust are electronics and foam padding, but the Boston University-led study was not able to confirm this.

PBDEs are only one of the many types of pollutants that may be found in people's homes. "The average consumer home is a toxic wasteland," says consumer advocate Mike Adams. "And the majority of the toxins are brought into the home by the people who live there, through personal care products, chemically-treated mattresses, cleaning products and air fresheners."

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