Why children can be dangerous with fireproof vinyl floors and sofas

Chemicals known as semi-volatile organic compounds have been linked to health problems

WASHINGTON – Home decor like furniture and floors may not be as infamous as polluters like gas pigs, but home products can also be a significant source of potentially harmful chemicals.

Children living in homes with all vinyl floors or lounge chairs containing fire retardants have higher levels of chemicals called semi-volatile organic compounds in their blood and urine than other children. The researchers reported the results on Feb. 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Manufacturers typically use semi-volatile organic compounds such as plasticizers and flame retardants to make electronics, furniture, and other household items (SN: 11/14/15, p. 10). “A lot of these chemicals have been linked to adverse effects on children’s health – things like ADHD, autism … even cancer,” said Heather Stapleton, environmental health researcher at Duke University. , during a press conference. “It is important that we understand the main source of these chemicals in the home.”

Stapleton and his colleagues studied the home exposure of 203 children aged 3 to 6 years to semi-volatile organic compounds. The team collected dust and air samples as well as small items such as sofa cushions from the children’s homes. Researchers also take urine and blood samples from children.

Children who lived in homes with all vinyl floors had concentrations of a plasticizer benzylbutyl phthalate byproduct in their urine as high as about 240 nanograms per milliliter. Meanwhile, children living in homes without vinyl flooring average about 12 nanograms per milliliter. Children with the highest exposure showed 20 to 40 percent of the “reference dose” for benzyl butyl phthalate – the highest daily dose considered by the US Environmental Protection Agency to be safe without side effects. someone’s life.

Exposures to benzyl butyl phthalate recorded by the Stapleton team are below the EPA safe threshold. However, it is not clear how this level of chemicals will change in children’s bodies over the course of many years, Stapleton said. Exposure to benzyl butyl phthalate has been associated with respiratory and reproductive problems.

Children in homes with living room sofas containing flame-retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, have concentrations of these compounds in their blood serum averaging nearly 108 components per billion – about seven times higher than other children. The Stapleton team has yet to assess how these concentrations compare to the EPA benchmark dose. Exposure to PBDEs is linked to many cognitive problems, such as: B. decreased IQ and hyperactivity as well as cancer and other diseases.

Glenn Morrison, an off-work environmental engineer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says it makes sense, in hindsight, that Stapleton’s team found evidence of semi-volatile organic compounds in children’s bodies. But there has long been a “malicious assumption” among researchers that the equipment does not release these compounds quickly to produce them meaningfully in the bodies of residents, he said. New evidence undermines this hypothesis.

Showering and washing clothes more often can reduce people’s susceptibility to ingesting these chemicals, Morrison says. Ideally, internal consumer products should be free of harmful chemicals, he said. A better understanding of how the semi-volatile organic compounds that make up the body can include regulations on chemicals that can be used to make household products or help customers make better decisions about healthy and safe choices.

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