October 25, 2014
Chemicals in Preschools
Be Well

Chemicals in Preschools

by David Tuller, DrPH  |  

Children are routinely exposed to potentially hazardous flame retardant chemicals at preschools and day care centers, according to a new study from UC Berkeley in the journal Chemosphere. The researchers tested air and dust samples taken from 40 such facilities for flame retardants both with and without polybrominated diphenyl ethers, known as PBDEs. The preschools and day care centers serve more than 1700 kids in Monterey and Alameda Counties.

Studies in recent years have raised serious concerns about the negative impacts of flame retardant exposure on early childhood development. Researchers have previously linked the chemicals to reduced IQ, hormonal disruptions and neurological impairments. However, little has been known about the extent of flame retardant exposure in early childhood educational settings, where millions of young kids spend a significant amount of time.

"Child care environments are not unlike homes and other places where kids spend time, but there has been very little research done on these environments," lead author Asa Bradman, Ph.D., associate director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

PBDEs were long used as flame retardants in furniture but health concerns led to their being banned in California years ago, although they tend to persist in the environment. After the ban, many furniture-makers switched to compounds that included chlorinated-tris, which also works as a flame retardant but has itself been considered a carcinogen. While research has previously demonstrated widespread presence of PBDEs and chlorinated-tris in residential settings, this is the first to examine levels of the chemicals in early childhood educational settings, according to the authors.

All of the air and dust samples were found to contain measurable levels of PBDEs and chlorinated-tris compounds. Studies of residential settings have generally found somewhat comparable levels, so parents should not fear sending kids to pre-school because of the possibility of such exposures. The challenge for policy-makers, of course, is to figure out how to reduce exposures in all settings where children spend substantial amounts of time.