A new report published in the Environmental Science and Technology Journal has revealed that pregnant women in California have higher levels of PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) in their bodies than anywhere else in the world.
High levels of PBDEs are known to cause a number of health problems including liver and thyroid damage. More significantly, PBDEs have been linked to neurodevelopmental problems in children following prenatal exposure. One form of fire retardant, decabromodiphenyl, is thought to be a potential carcinogen.A research team from the University of California tested 25 women in the second trimester of pregnancy in California that were being treated in hospitals in the San Francisco area and found levels of PBDEs that were significantly higher than anywhere else in the country.
Although PBDEs have been banned in California since 2004, the researchers believe that the findings result from California's strict flammability laws during the 70s when fire retardant PBDEs were added to a huge range of domestic items from electrical appliances to furniture foam.
The group found that women from low income families were more at risk as they lived in homes with less effective ventilation. Furthermore, this demographic tended to have older possessions and it is known that more PBDEs are released into the air as products age and break down.
Paradoxically, immigrant women from countries such as Mexico, with laxer flammability legislation, had lower levels of PBDEs.
"Despite the ban, blood levels of flame retardant chemicals are two times higher for California residents than for people in the rest of the country, likely because our state has the most restrictive flammability requirements nationally,' said Ami Zota, one of the authors of the report.
Zota added that there was little that could be done to remove the threat posed by PBDEs:
"Ultimately, it is very hard to avoid our exposures to these products because they're so widespread. We need policy measures."
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