Flame Retardants linked to Autism? Yet Another Reason I Want FRs Out of My Couch

Crossposted from Making Our Milk Safe (MOMS) blog, by Natalie Dayton.

Last summer I had the privilege of working with one of the most inspiring, fun-loving groups in the world: children. I spent three warm summer months creating fond memories, sharing enriching experiences, expanding knowledge, and growing with these children. Over the course of my child care experience, I had the chance to communicate with children of various ages, nationalities, family backgrounds and personalities. I especially appreciated the opportunity I had to work with three children who identified with the autism spectrum disorder community.  Their talent, attitude, and character demonstrated each day was incredible.  The way they overcame personal challenges was admirable. The love I developed for these children forever changed my outlook on how I respond to difficulties in my own life— Because of these personal experiences, I have a developed a keen interest in research involving the potential causes of autism spectrum disorder.

With the continued heat surrounding California’s proposal to revise TB-117 and eliminate the usage of toxic flame retardant chemicals in furniture (see previous blog post), the recent study indicating flame retardants are linked to autism adds fuel to the raging fire in my chest . Scientists from the Mind Institute of the University of California Davis –an institute which focuses on cognitive disorders and spends a lot of time researching causes of the autism spectrum— conducted an experiment where female mice were exposed to the common flame retardant PBDE while in the womb. The mice were found to have impaired learning abilities, altered motor development, as well as social and behavioral issues—all symptoms covered under the autism spectrum disorder.

 PBDE is a flame retardant chemical found in the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the ever present dust in our homes. PBDEs are shown to mimic the thyroid hormone. PBDEs deceive our bodies into thinking that actual thyroid hormone is present, wreaking havoc with the delicate systems that depend on it to function, including metabolism, reproduction, and growth development.  The widespread infiltration of “fake hormones” like PBDEs in our environment has been linked to a host of health problems, from infertility and obesity, to cancer and autism.

Judy Levin, who directs the work on flame retardant chemicals for the  Center of Environmental Health remarked, “This study provides another concerning example of how exposure to flame retardants is an important risk factor for autistic patterns of behavior.  The study also raises the important question as to whether PBDEs or other environmental chemicals can actually “tip the balance“ for individuals with genetic risks for other health-related problems or diseases making them  more sensitive to these health issues than the  general population. We should all be concerned about these type of findings.”

The combination of environmental factors and genetic make-up are now being linked together through studies, like this one, which allows us to continue getting closer to identifying the causes of autism spectrum disorders. Toxic chemicals continue to pollute our environment and imitate vital hormones that essential determine much of how our body functions. Will we continue to allow this to happen?

There is no better time to take action on toxic flame retardant chemicals than now. California standard TB-117 is currently being revised and this time we want to make sure no harmful PBDEs or other halogenated or brominated flame retardants are finding their way into our furniture and bodies. The next step is to take this issue to a federal level. You can do your part and urge the Consumer Product Safety Commission to enact their 2008 draft of the furniture flammability standard. This will remove toxic flame retardant chemicals out of our environment which might just help reduce the numbers of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.