Study finds high levels of toxin in tots

Q. I've heard that electronics must be disposed of carefully because of all the toxic components. My one-year-old loves to play with the TV remote and my cell phone and often sticks them in her mouth. Could what's inside of them get into her system?  -Petronella K., Boise, Idaho

A. You might want to start keeping those tempting playthings out of your tot’s reach. Some troubling research has just found that toddlers have surprisingly high blood levels of chemicals called PBDEs, which are commonly used as fire retardants in electronics. “Kids were found to have levels three times as high as their mothers,” says Sonya Lunder, author of the study which was released last week by the Environmental Working Group. Kids are likely ingesting small amounts of these chemicals when they mouth household objects—like remote controls and cell phones—that contain them. PBDEs (also called brominated fire retardants) are also used in large electronics, furniture, and mattresses, so they make their way into dust and carpets, compounding the problem since kids tend to play on the floor and put their hands and toys in their mouths. So how might these exposures affect a young child? Unfortunately, there’s not really enough research yet to give any kind of definitive answer, but lab studies and the few human studies available show some troubling links between PBDEs and neurological and hormone problems. Of course, trying to stop a toddler from putting her hands, toys, or any other object in her mouth would be like telling a dog not to wag it’s tail. “We can’t change the way kids play—nor should we,” says Lunder. “Instead, this is really something that needs to be dealt with systematic approach that ensures products are designed so they’re not harmful.” In the meantime, though, simply putting that remote control out of reach makes good sense, as does using a high-efficiency vacuum to limit dust in your home. And because of PBDE bans and restrictions in Europe, some manufacturers have recently stopped or will soon stop using them in their products, including those sold in the US. Choosing one of those brands for future purchases also makes good sense.


- Sarah Schmidt


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