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Exposure to Flame Retardant Chemicals May Increase Kids' Hyperactivity, Lower Their IQs

Update Date: May 06, 2013 01:23 PM EDT

Fire retardant chemicals that became popular in an effort to protect young children may actually be toxic to them. In fact, a recent study performed on the subject found that children exposed to such chemicals have lower IQs and have a greater rate of hyperactivity than other children.

Fire retardant chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, have been commonly used in a variety of household products, including electronics, strollers and carpeting, to reduce the risk of fires. Though they are no longer used in most materials nowadays, they are not biodegradable, so they can continue to live on in old products or in the tissues of people who were exposed to them. They are still used in furniture because a California state law requires furniture to be able to withstand flames for 12 seconds, though lawmakers are revising that law.

That can have a harmful effect on babies. A study that examined pregnant women and their children examined 309 women at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. According to Scientific American, they tested the mothers-to-be at the beginning of their second trimester for levels of PBDEs. After the children were born, the scientists tested them with intelligence and behavior tests every year until they were five years old.

The researchers found that, the higher that the mother's PBDE level was, the greater the effect on the children. Mothers with a 10-fold level of PBDEs had children with a four-point deficit on an IQ test. That may not seem like a lot but, "in a population, if many children are affected, the social and economic impact can be huge due to the shift of IQ distribution and productivity," Aimin Chen, an assistant professor of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and the lead author of the study, said to Scientific American.

Exposure to PBDEs in the womb also resulted in increased hyperactivity between the ages of two to five, Health Day reports.

CBS News reports that, in order to lower exposure to the chemical, people should wash their hands more often in order to reduce dust exposure, and to replace any products that may contain the chemical.

The study will be presented today at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting.

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