Chemicals increasingly used as flame retardants and plasticizers pose a greater than expected risk to children’s brain development, according to a commentary published in Environmental Health Perspectives. The research team looked at dozens of human, animal, and cellular studies. She found that exposure to even low levels of these chemicals, called organophosphate esters, can affect children’s IQ, attention, and memory. This is in a way that has yet to be considered by regulators.
The neurotoxicity of organophosphate esters used as nerve agents and pesticides is widely recognized. However, it has always been considered that organophosphate esters used as flame retardants and plasticizers are weaker. As a result, they are widely used to replace some halogenated flame retardants. Products phased out or banned in electronics, the car seats and other products for babies, the furniture and the construction materials. However, the authors’ analysis revealed that these chemicals are also neurotoxic, but by different mechanisms of action.
“The use of organophosphate esters in everything from televisions to car seats, has proliferated under the mistaken assumption that they are safe, ”said Heather Patisaul, senior author and neuroendocrinologist at North Carolina State University. Unfortunately, these chemicals seem to be just as harmful than those they are supposed to replace. But they work by a different mechanism.
Organophosphate esters: a threat to brain development
Organophosphate esters continually migrate out of products into air and dust. Contaminated dust ends up on our hands. They are then inadvertently ingested when we eat. This is why these chemical products are found in virtually all people tested. Children are particularly at risk due to hand-to-mouth behavior. Babies and young children therefore have much higher concentrations of these chemicals in their organization. And this during the most vulnerable periods of brain development.
“Organophosphate esters threaten the brain development of a whole generation, ”said Linda Birnbaum, co-author and retired NIEHS director. If we do not end their use now, the consequences will be serious and irreversible.
The authors call for an end to the unnecessary uses of all organophosphate esters. This includes their use as flame retardants to meet flammability standards. ineffective in consumer products, vehicles and construction materials.
For uses where organophosphate esters are considered essential, the authors recommend that governments and industry carry out evaluations of alternatives. He therefore asks them to invest in innovative solutions without harmful chemicals.
“The organophosphate esters present in many products do not perform any essential function. They even pose a serious risk, especially to our children, ”said Carol Kwiatkowski, co-author.