Levels of harmful flame-retardant chemicals in women’s breast milk have dropped by nearly 40 percent since California’s decade-old ban on these chemicals took effect, according to a new study by state environmental scientists.
The chemicals, called PBDEs, were widely used for decades in household products including furniture, crib mattresses and televisions. They tend to leach out of products like furniture and can settle in household dust, tainting homes and offices and accumulating in both people and animals.
They persist in body fluids and fat for years, and are associated with neurological and thyroid disorders. In particular, researchers have linked fetal exposure to high levels of PBDEs to IQ deficits and hyperactivity.
California phased out the use of two of the main types of PBDEs in 2006. There is no federal ban on PBDEs, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has worked with manufacturers to phase out production. The European Union banned PBDEs in 2004, but the chemicals may be present in products imported from other countries or U.S. products manufactured before the mid-2000s.
The study, sponsored by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and conducted by researchers from the agency’s Environmental Chemistry Laboratory in Berkeley, was published in the peer-reviewed journal Chemosphere.