CINCINNATI -- Chemicals used in everything from pots and pans to carpets and couches could be harming children's emotional and cognitive development.
University of Cincinnati researchers found a link between prenatal exposure to two groups of chemicals -- flame retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, and perfluoroalkyl substances or PFASs, used for their water and stain repellant properties -- and children's behavior. The study involved 256 sets of mothers and children who are involved in a long-term study examining the impacts of low-level chemical exposures on the children's development.
"We found that mothers who had higher PBDE levels had children who had higher or more behavior regulation problems. And then with PFASs, we found that higher PFAS exposure during pregnancy was associated with emotional regulation problems, behavior regulation problems, as well as metacognition problems in children," said Ann Vuong, a postdoctoral fellow involved in the research.
In simple terms, children have a harder time controlling their behavior and emotions, leading to more outbursts and trouble switching subject matters in class.
PBDEs are found in polyurethane foams, couches and upholstery, carpet pads, electronics, and some textiles, and they can enter the air, water and soil from wear and tear of consumer products. PFASs can be found in fast-food wraps, cleaning products, firefighting foams, upholstery and nonstick cookware.
"That is a big indication that PBDEs are a problem in neurodevelopment, and we should take measures to alleviate the burden of exposure," Vuong said.
Most people already have the chemicals in their bodies, Vuong said: They're stored in fat and can stay there for up to 10 years.
Vuong's best advice: Frequently clean the surfaces in your home, vacuum your carpets and, as often as possible, wash your hands.
"The issue is that they're persistent, so they're in the environment and the air, as well as not everyone throws away their couch -- some people keep their couches for 10 years -- so they're in there," Vuong said.
The study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the US Environmental Protection Agency. Results were published this week in "Environmental Research."