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The findings are alarming, but there are steps you can take to reduce exposure to these chemicals in the home.
The chemicals, known as semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs), are commonly found in many indoor environments. They're used in electronics, furniture, crib mattresses, and building materials. In order to figure out if specific products contribute to higher levels of these chemicals in children, the researchers at Duke studied 203 children in 190 different households over three years.
They took air, dust, and furniture foam samples from the kids' homes. They also analyzed the children's skin, urine, and blood.
Here's what they found:
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs): Children whose home sofa contained these flame-retardant chemicals had six times more PBDEs in their blood than kids whose home sofa was PBDE-free. PBDEs are linked to delays in brain development, obesity, hormone disruption, and cancer. However, it's important to note that much of the research regarding these chemicals has been on animals, not humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
- Benzyl butyl phthalate: Kids had 15 times more of this chemical in their urine when their homes had all-vinyl flooring, compared to kids whose homes had no vinyl flooring. Benzyl butyl phthalate is linked to respiratory problems, skin irritations, a type of blood cancer, and reproductive disorders.
Researchers presented their findings at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. The study hasn't yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
All of the kids in the study lived in North Carolina, so it's possible that chemical exposures are different in other parts of the United States. However, SVOCs are widespread, and vinyl flooring and sofas with these chemicals are sold country-wide.
Unfortunately, manufacturers are not required to disclose the use of flame retardants on product labels. The good news is that more than a dozen U.S. states have taken steps to ban the use of flame retardants in children's products. Children's toys and childcare products that contain more than 0.1 percent of certain phthalates have been banned, and several big-box home improvement stores have committed to selling only phthalate-free flooring.
Getting rid of vinyl flooring and sofas containing flame retardants is the best way to reduce your children's exposure to these chemicals. Of course, that's not always practical or affordable for many families. Speaking to Newsweek, lead researcher Heather Stapleton had these tips:
- Ventilate your home as much as possible
- Use good air filters
- Keep dust accumulation to a minimum
Other helpful resources include the Environmental Protection Agency's guide to indoor air quality and the Environmental Working Group's Healthy Living: Home Guide.
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