DURHAM, N.C. -- A Duke University-led study of North Carolina toddlers suggests that exposure to potentially toxic flame-retardant chemicals may be higher in nonwhite toddlers than in white toddlers.
The study also suggests that exposure to the chemicals is higher among toddlers whose fathers do not have a college degree, a proxy measure of lower socioeconomic background.
Hand-to-mouth activity may account for a significant amount of the children's exposure to the contaminants, according to the study, which appears Wednesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Age and duration of breastfeeding also were associated with exposure.
The scientists, led by Heather Stapleton, assistant professor of environmental chemistry at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment, tested 83 toddlers ages 12 to 36 months for levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). This class of exceptionally long-lasting chemicals was widely used over the last 30 years to reduce flammability in a variety of consumer products, including polyurethane foam padding, electronics and furniture.
Studies have shown that over time, PBDEs migrate into the environment and accumulate in living organisms, where they can disrupt endocrine activity and impair thyroid regulation and brain development. Early exposure to PBDEs has been linked to low birth weight and impaired cognitive, motor and behavioral development. One study in 2010 showed that children with high levels of exposure to PBDEs scored lower on infant development and preschool IQ tests.
Because children can be exposed to PBDEs three ways by ingesting them with food or dust particles, breathing them in from the air, or ingesting them through mother's milk Stapleton and her colleagues collected blood serum samples, hand-wipe samples and house dust samples for each child in the test group.
They detected PBDE contaminants in all of the blood and house dust s
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