Toxins that impact neurodevelopment are common in baby items and electronic devices

RALEIGH, N.C. — Fire-preventing chemicals and those scientists call “plasticizers” are common ingredients in making baby products and household electronics, a new report warns. Experts say these toxins endanger neurological development, especially in children.

Plasticizers increase the plasticity or flexibility of substances. They, along with flame retardants, are structurally different compounds containing phosphates and are called organophosphate esters.

According to the new commentary, these chemicals are detrimental to health and are abundant within the average home! From home insulation to adhesives and plastics used every day, these synthetic chemicals are nearly everywhere. They are even a major component of furniture. Previous studies have shown the concentration of these chemicals in freshwater ecosystems, as well as breastmilk via their accumulation in the body.

Scientists analyzed several studies from cell-based research to investigations involving humans and mammals. Collectively, the data reveals that exposure even in relatively small amounts may impair cognitive functions in children such as attention and the ability to remember information. Moreover, exposure to these chemicals appears to result in a decrease in IQ among children.

No amount of these toxins is insignificant

Previous studies have revealed that these types of compounds in nerve gases and insecticides can be toxic to neurons. Despite this, scientists have considered the degree of toxicity of substances such as fire-preventing chemicals and those in plastics to be insignificant.

Therefore, they’re frequently found in child seats, furniture, electronics, construction materials, and several baby items. Their incorporation into these everyday items is largely due to the prohibition of other chemicals such as fire-preventing substances containing halogens. Although these chemicals are supposedly the safer substitutes, they still appear to be neurotoxic, just in a unique manner.

“The use of organophosphate esters in everything from TVs to car seats has proliferated under the false assumption that they’re safe,” says Heather Patisaul, lead author and neuroendocrinologist at North Carolina State University, in a statement. “Unfortunately, these chemicals appear to be just as harmful as the chemicals they’re intended to replace but act by a different mechanism.”

Kids at greater risk of exposure

Organophosphate esters are constantly evaporating from goods and ending up in the atmosphere and in fine particulate matter (PM). Whenever we dine, we unintentionally consume toxic dust that has been on our skin. So, researchers have found these substances in almost everyone examined. Kids, especially, are at high risk for exposure since they tend to eat with their hands more often. As a result, the quantities of these substances are substantially greater in infants and children, and unfortunately, throughout the most susceptible stages of neurodevelopment.

“Organophosphate esters threaten the brain development of a whole generation,” says Linda Birnbaum, the study’s co-author, and retired NIEHS Director. “If we don’t stem their use now, the consequences will be grave and irreversible.”

The researchers urge both governments and manufacturers to phase out these compounds. They add that governments and businesses should perform replacement evaluations and put their money toward safer solutions that do not include the use of dangerous chemicals in applications which require organophosphate esters.

“Organophosphate esters in many products serve no essential function while posing a serious risk, especially to our children,” concludes Carol Kwiatkowski, co-author and Science and Policy Senior Associate at the Green Science Policy Institute. “It’s urgent that product manufacturers critically reevaluate the uses of organophosphate ester flame retardants and plasticizers—many may be doing more harm than good.”

The team published their findings in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.