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Day Care Centers and Preschools Expose Kids to Dangerous Flame Retardants

Update Date: May 16, 2014 11:10 AM EDT

A new study is reporting that young kids are being exposed to dangerous flame-retardants at day care centers and preschools. The researchers from the University of California, Berkeley discovered 14 polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are a type of flame-retardant, and four non-PBDE retardants at 40 different centers within the state.

"These findings underscore how widespread these materials are in indoor environments," study author Asa Bradman, associate director of the Center for Children's Environmental Health Research at UC Berkeley, said reported by U.S. News and World Report. "Children are more vulnerable to the health effects of environmental contaminants, so we should be particularly careful to reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals."

For this study, which was funded by the California Air Resources Board, the researchers examined 40 different types of childcare centers, which included 1,764 young children from the Californian counties, Monterey and Alameda. The sample of the childcare centers encompassed a wide range of environments, which included a mix of urban, rural and agricultural settings. The team tested for PBDEs and non-PBDE flame-retardants via air and floor samples.

The researchers found 14 PBDEs and four non-PBDEs, which included tris phosphate compounds in all of the samples that were collected. The concentration of flame-retardants was common in dust samples with concentration levels being lower in air samples. Centers with foam related products tended to have higher levels of flame-retardants. 29 out of the 40 centers had upholstered furniture and 17 had napping items made out of foam.

Constant exposure to these chemicals could be dangerous since previous studies have identified them as known carcinogens. The flame-retardants have also been linked to an increased risk of diabetes and obesity.

"I remember learning about the tris phosphate flame retardants in kids' pajamas when I was in high school 35 years ago, so it's a bit surprising to still be seeing them today," said Bradman in the press release. "They were never banned. There seems to have been a resurgence in recent years as manufacturers looked for PBDE replacements."

California had banned two types of PBDEs in 2006 after they were linked to several health concerns. Despite the ban, old furniture that was created with the PBDEs is still present in certain locations. Since then, California has created new standards aimed to reduce exposure to these chemicals, which will go into effect later this year and become mandatory by next year.

"The new standard is not a ban on flame retardants, but manufacturers can meet it without using the chemicals," Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute and a UC Berkeley visiting scholar in chemistry, said reported in FOX News. "Most upholstered fabrics, such as leather, are already smolder-proof. Consumers should verify that the furniture they are buying is free of flame retardants, especially when children will be exposed."

The study was published in the journal, Chemosphere.

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