Exposure to flame retardant chemicals is connected to behavior problems in children

Flame retardant

There is a growing concern that chemicals found in children’s environments may negatively influence their social and emotional development.

A recent study conducted by researchers at Oregon State University found a link between chemical exposure to flame retardants in household products and increased negative social behaviors in preschool-age children.

Flame retardants such as brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and organophosphate-based flame retardants (OPFRs) are widely used in upholstered furniture, futons, and carpets, as well as children’s products such as car seats, crib mattresses, nap mats, and changing table pads to reduce their flammability in order to meet fire safety standards. Flame retardants are also contained within some electronic devices including televisions, remotes, cell phones, and in building materials.

The children in the study wore silicone bracelets, which pick up chemical compounds from the built environment, for seven days. The bracelets were then used to assess exposure to 41 compounds. The researchers observed a dose-dependent relationship between higher flame retardant exposure and increased negative social behaviors at their preschool care facility. Specifically, positive behaviors such as communication, cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, engagement, and self-control and problem behaviors such as externalizing, bullying, hyperactivity and/or inattention, and internalizing were assessed by the children’s teachers. Children displaying less assertive behavior were associated with having higher brominated diphenyl ether (BDE) levels in their wristbands, and children who were rated as being both less responsible and having more externalizing behavior problems including aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention and bullying had higher OPFR wristband levels.

Given the results of this research, families should consider the risks of flame-retardant containing products and attempt to reduce their child and family’s exposure to them. Start by assessing their prevalence in their home environment and/or being more aware of the types of chemicals that might be contained in home products when making new purchases. Be especially conscious of these chemicals in clothing items, such as pajamas, and other products that touch the skin for extended periods of time. Lowering your child’s exposure to these toxic chemicals can reduce the risk of problem behaviors now and in the future.


Environmental Working Group. (n.d.). EWG’s home tips: tip 4 – avoid fire retardants. Retrieved from: http://www.ewg.org/research/healthy-home-tips/tip-4-avoid-fire-retardants.

Lipscomb, S.T., McClelland, M.M., MacDonald, M., Cardenas, A. Anderson, K.A., and Kile, M.L. (2017). Cross-sectional study of social behaviors in preschool children and exposure to flame retardants. Environmental Health, 16 (23). doi: 10.1186/s12940-017-0224-6

Oregon State University. Flame retardant chemicals may affect social behavior in young children. Science Daily. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170309141306.htm.

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