Flame Retardants in Furniture Lead to Poor Behavior in Kids

You'll never believe which unexpected type of product can reportedly cause behavioral issues in your children if you come in contact with it. Here's how to avoid it.

Flame Retardants Lead to Poor Behavior in Children Alexandra Grablewski

Add this to the list of things women should try to avoid while pregnant: New research indicates that exposure to flame retardants in products like furniture and electronics could lead to poor behavioral function in your children.

As part of the study, published in Environmental Research, researchers looked at levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and PFASs in 256 pregnant women, then assessed their children for several years via answers to parent-reported questionnaires. These responses allowed researchers to examine impairments in executive function, mental processes used in focus, working memory, delegation of tasks and emotional control.

Childhood effects

"We examined the relationship between prenatal exposure to PBDEs and PFASs and executive function in children at 5 and 8 years of age," Ann Vuong, Dr.P.H., a study author and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cincinnati in the Department of Environmental Health, said. "The findings suggest that maternal serum concentrations of PBDEs and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), one of the most commonly found PFASs in human blood, may be associated with poorer executive functioning in school-age children."

According to the CDC, executive function—which is what the group found to be impaired in cases where mothers showed exposure to flame retardants—relates to one's ability to plan, organize and abstract.

"Given the persistence of PBDEs and PFASs in the environment and in human bodies, the observed deficits in executive function may have a large impact at the population level. Further research is needed to understand and clarify the population impact of their potential neurotoxicity," said Vuong.

What you can do about it

Flame retardants are synthetic compounds that are present in some seemingly innocuous products, like couches, upholstery, carpet pads, electronics and textiles. But even if you can manage to avoid these, the polyurethane foams can also be found in the environment, as they can enter the air, water and soil due to wear and tear from those aforementioned products. Humans ingest these retardants through dust and diet—so cleanliness is key.

Obviously, staying away from flame retardants whenever possible would be a good idea in light of all this—but how can you do that? The Environmental Working Group suggests contacting your couch's manufacturer to see if they've added chemical flame retardants, replacing old foam from furniture if you're reupholsturing and trying to avoid foam products that were made before 2005.